Cam Walker

Cam lives in Central Victoria and has had a lifelong interest in walking, climbing, XC skiing and conservation. He works for environmental group Friends of the Earth, and spends as much time as he can in Tasmania, visiting new areas and old favourites like the Central Plateau and Ducane Range​.

icon light bulb The Mountain Journal

Mount Geryon

I don’t know any Indigenous stories about Mt Geryon, in the southern end of Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. But I do often wonder what it must have been like for the peoples who lived and passed through the incredible mountain country of central western Tasmania. To approach this mountain up Pine Valley and finally to reach the small clearing (the old ‘climbers camp’) where the bulky western face suddenly reveals itself is always an impressive, and to me, spiritual, experience. I wonder if they climbed this peak.

So many of the features of this region have been loaded down with Biblical titles or names from the Greek Classics, something that irks me whenever I scan the map or skyline. There are some great names: I love Innes High Rocky in the south west. And closer to Geryon, there is Fury Gorge, Pencil Pine Bluff, Cathedral Mountain, High Dome, Walled Mountain, The Never Never, and the beautifully appropriate Pool of Memories. These names evoke something of the place. Peaks named after early explorers also make sense. But just reeling off a list of names from western mythology seems lazy and disrespectful. But I can live with Geryon. The three-bodied giant of Greek Mythology.

It is such a dramatic mountain, squeezed up the end of Pine Valley up against the Ducane range, and hidden in behind the bulkier looking Acropolis when seen from lake St Clair. It provides a dramatic and other worldly aspect to dinner when you’re sitting in Bert Nichols hut on the Overland track. If the word charismatic can be applied to a mountain, then it certainly applies to Geryon. Its dramatic rocky faces on the east and west constantly change their moods and even from The Labyrinth it presents itself as a ‘real’ mountain, with another thousand feet of cliffs and dramatic skyline above the Labyrinth plateau. It can be mild in The Labyrinth and storming up on Geryon and the Ducane Range. The Cephessis scree, which runs from the base of the western face down almost to Cephissus Creek, is an amazing feature, and acts as a giant staircase that leads you right to the cliffs.

Climbing the mountain

Unlike a lot of the rockier mountains in Tasmania with large faces, there is no easy way around the ‘back’ of the mountain. The easiest route, and the only one with a proper trail, is to the northern peak. Its still quite a hike, requiring a 6 to 7 hours walk from the ferry at Narcissus hut on Lake St Clair. The first recorded ascent wasn’t until 1937, when Hugh Gordon and David W Wilson from the Hobart Walking Club climbed this end of the range.

For those who don’t mind the walk in, it has some incredible rock climbing. The east face is by far the more serious prospect, and the premier climb would have to be the Shield, a 450m route at grade 24 which was established by Steve Monks and Jane Wilkinson. There are at least 70 routes recorded, ranging from some moderate classics to out there desperates on the east face.

Then there is the famous Geryon Traverse, a climb and series of abseils over the three peaks. Some hardly souls attempt to head in to Geryon for ice climbing. Being Tasmania, the conditions tend towards the fickle, and I have only slogged through knee deep powder rather than found any ice. But having spent several days in the hut as snow piled up outside and massive Eucalypts creaked and swayed in the gale force winds is a memory I will hold forever. There are some good notes on the traverse and climbing on Geryon available here and some great images of the traverse here.

For hikers, the journey up from Pine Valley hut, onto The Labyrinth, and then up to the Ducane Range is an inspiring outing. From old giant Myrtle Beech dominated forest, rock scrambling up a stream bed to finally emerge on the plateau to wander through spindly snow gum and finally above the tree line, this is a superb walk. The final climb, past a narrow section and then sidling around the top of the western face has a nice sense of exposure, and feeling of being on a real mountain, as The Labyrinth and Walled Mountain appear below you.

Then, of course, there is the deciduous beech (Nothofagus gunii) which puts on a dazzling show in late autumn. This low tree tends to exist in tangled swathes in isolated pockets of the western mountains and The Labyrinth is a favourite destination for ‘beech viewing’.

Geryon and the surrounding peaks were created through glaciation and there are many examples of glacial cirques and rock grinding. It is a grand landscape, made even more beautiful by the many small lakes, glacial tarns, and the dark, pointed pencil pines that cover the surrounding plateaus.

The Ducane Range, which lies as a big arc across the head of the Pine Valley is beautiful and wild alpine landscape, with a significant patch of ground over 1,500 metres, which tends to hold snow well. There are various scramble peaks radiating off or connected to the Ducane Range – Eros and Hyperion, Mt Massif, which is accessed via Big Gun Pass, and Geryon itself. The Ducane Traverse continues past Mt Massif to Castle Crag/ Falling Mountain and then to Ducane Gap, where it meets the Overland Track. This is a fantastic 2 or 3 day adventure which requires good route finding and boulder hopping skills.

There is also a network of routes around the mountain which are neither ‘official’ or maintained, and which are largely connected to use by climbers. The main one is the route that heads upstream along the Cephissis Creek where the track to the Acropolis crosses the stream and starts to climb towards the mountain. This route follows the stream, and leads to the old climbers camp, which has space for a couple of tents amongst big old trees. From here you turn towards the mountain and head up the Cephissis scree, which leads you into a wild landscape of cliff and gully. Its difficult terrain to travel through but the views from the Geryon/ Acropolis saddle are superb.

My favourite viewing spot for the mountain is the bluffs just above the Pool of Memories, which looks out onto the headwaters of Pine Valley and directly up to the western face.

Like a lot of the higher mountain areas in Tasmania that are relatively easy to get to, these peaks are under pressure from humans. The Labyrinth in particular needs to be protected from pollution and the Parks Service discourages people from camping up on the plateau. Geryon can be climbed in a day from a camp in the Pine Valley or the Pine Valley hut. Many day walkers do the shorter trip up to the Labyrinth lookout, which does give grand views of Geryon and The Acropolis.

If you are drawn to mountains and wild landscapes, then Geryon is a must. To wind your way past glacial lakes, through groves of pencil pine and deciduous beech, as you slowly pass under the grey ramparts of Geryon’s western face would have to be one of the best walks in all of Australia. To also include the climb to the north peak makes for an unforgettable experience.
Mount Geryon - by Cam Walker-001

Mountain Journal – The Gould Circuit

These are not track notes as such. If you have half decent map reading abilities and are good at off track travel and rock hopping (and have clear conditions) you should be fine. There are two reasonably significant lessons I learnt from my last trip to the Gould area, these are highlighted where they arise in the trip description below.

The Gould plateau feels nicely remote, even though its just a few hours walk from the ferry drop off at Narcissus Hut at the head of Lake St Clair. The 1:25,000 maps show the way to Gould plateau. You travel through button grass plains, nice open euc woodland and then into wonderful old growth rainforest. Its barely a trail in many spots, and easy to miss where the trail cuts into the rainforest, in an open glade where you cross an obvious stream. From here it starts to climb and its about another hour or so until you get to the lip of the plateau, where you suddenly emerge from low scrub into the open. That last hour is hard work.
There are a whole number of incredible camp spots dotted across the many flat rock outcrops that sit between shallow alpine tarns. It can be quite exposed to the weather, however with a bit of walking (within 250 metres of where the trail comes out onto the plateau) you will find a couple of smaller and reasonably sheltered spots for a tent on the ground rather than rock. The views are great from here – Mt Olympus, Gould, the Lake, Traveller Range, the Cheyne Range and that tangle of hills and ridges out west.

Next day you continue on the faint trail that leads directly towards the rocky face of Gould. It veers slightly to the right and enters some thick scrub. It is easy to lose it here. If so, push upwards through the belt of rainforest and scrub, finally emerging above treeline and then continue to head out right under the cliffs, following the line of least resistance. You should pick up the faint trail again once you’re above the trees and as it contours around to an obvious outcrop of conglomerate rock. You can normally get water here – in summer it may be the only spot until you get back down off the Minotaur hills.

Go past and then above this rock outcrop, then head up until the Minotaur comes into view and do the nice long sidle around Mt Gould itself, crossing under the impressive face of the Minotaur (that gully system has some amazing climbing when it’s iced up nicely) and into the very atmospheric saddle between Gould and the Minotaur. It even has a big rock that’s like a recliner couch for a bit of a nap or some cloud or peak watching.

Then there is a short scramble up a boulder field onto the back (south side) of the Minotaur – there is fantastically exposed camping up here at the obvious spot near the pencil pines. Its all very fragile, so grab some rock platforms if you can to camp on. There is not normally water here.

A detour out to the Guardians offers a bit more of an alpine fix if you need it and have the time. You can do it as a day trip or stay up on the high exposed ridge on top. There are some tarns out there that normally provide a good supply of water.

If you stay at the ‘campsite’, continue up towards the high point of the Minotaur. Stay as high as you can, go over the top of the Minotaur and then its narrow northern prow – which has a wonderful drop off below you and beyond that a vista of the maze of lakes and rock outcrops that is the Labyrinth.

The next bit can be a little bit tricky. Find the deep and very steep gully that drops into the trees from the very end of the north ridge of the Minotaur and do a controlled fall down the gully heading due north (there is usually a small cairn at the very top to mark the start of a very rough trail). At the base of the gully you will find yourself in a rocky saddle – the trail is reasonably obvious – climb over a series of ridges to eventually pop out on the trail that climbs out of Pine Valley and leads into the Labyrinth. From here, if you turn right, you will be back at Pine Valley hut in about 90 minutes and from there its a 3 hour walk back to Narcissus.

On this trip we were heading on towards the nice high country of the Ducane Range but as we were crossing over past Lake Elysia, we had a serious lightning storm so we did some power walking until we could hunker down as best we could in the old growth pencil pine forest at the Pool of Memories. Then we had about 12 hours of torrential rain and more weather that was threatening to do the same.

So we bailed, opting for the cosy big city lights of Pine Valley Hut instead of a camp on the Ducane Range. As we walked out it cleared as we crossed the low divide near Lake Elysia and it kept lifting and so we were treated to great views of the terrain we had spent a few days crossing – the sharp profile of the Minotaur and Mt Gould.

Back amongst the hordes on the feeder track to the Overland I enjoyed the many languages, dress sense and camaraderie that comes with this famous walk. One more ferry ride and the obligatory greasy food and beers at Cynthia Bay, the clouds trailing over the lake and surrounding peaks, always a hard place to leave.

Mountaineering Tasmania – The Ducane Traverse

The Ducane Range, in the southern end of the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park, has some of the most stunning alpine environments in Australia.

Tasmania has notoriously unpredictable winter conditions, but the Ducane can provide spectacular skiing when it’s in condition, on steep slopes and in gullies.

The Trip
The ‘traverse’ is generally seen as being the walk/ snowshoe from Ducane Gap, on the Overland Track, over Castle Crag and Mt Massif, into Big Gun Pass, and then exiting onto the Ducane Range proper. From here you head out past the Pool of Memories and down to the head of Pine Valley via the Geryon climbers camp, or through the Labyrinth to the Parthenon track that takes you to Pine Valley hut. From here it is a three hour walk to Narcissus Hut on Lake St Clair.

You need to allow a minimum of three days (but up to five is good) to do the trip. It is all remote, off track route finding from when you leave the Overland Track at Ducane Gap until you get to the saddle where the Pine Valley trail climbs onto the flanks of the Parthenon (there is a rough track from near the Pool of Memories all the way back to the Parthenon Track which is cairned and easy to follow).

The serious part of the trip is between Castle Crag and the north east corner of the Ducane Range. In summer, an experienced and fit walking party will not have any troubles. In winter it is a more serious proposition, especially if there is heavy snow lower down – this makes the approach from Ducane Gap to the treeline at Castle Crag much tougher, making the climb onto the range exhausting.

There is no escape route from the exposed Castle Crag to Ducane Range section, so don’t launch off onto the traverse unless you know you have at least a day of good weather coming once you leave Ducane Gap. There are some objective dangers, including steep and often wind blasted and icy slopes, cliffs, occasional rock fall, and slow travel across boulder fields. You can do the trip in either direction, although I would recommend starting at Ducane Gap.

Some Cautions

The two key points to be aware of which may present some objective risks occur as you climb towards Mt Massif from the Castle Crag side. On the final rounded hill before the climb to Massif, most parties veer right (towards Mt Ossa) as they go over the hill top. This has large boulders with some difficult terrain for a few hundred metres. Once you reach the saddle beyond, where a steep ridge leads up directly above you to Massif, I would recommend you turn right (north) and descend off the ridge and walk under the base of the cliffs on the north side of the ridge. After a few hundred metres you will find yourself in a huge open gully. Stick close to the base of the cliffs and climb up on the rough pad to the head of the gully. The ridge which is avoided has considerable exposure and a big fall if you come off.

It is also wise to be aware of the steep pitch of the descent from Mt Massif to Big Gun Pass (BGP). The traditional (summer) approach is to find the high point above the summit bowl on the Ducane Range side of Mt Massif, then follow the ridge line towards Big Gun Pass (there is one exposed section half way along which can be confronting, it is easy going but has a few moves over a very big drop) and then dropping to a long plateau about half way towards BGP.

From here it is all boulder hopping almost all the way to the pass. This can be really difficult in icy or wind blown conditions. With the wind chill added to the aspect, be aware that these boulders can ice up quickly in late afternoon. A safer, but still physically tiring, option is to drop down onto the boulderfields out towards Mt Hyperion as you leave the summit bowl. You then work your way around towards BGP, mostly contouring around the mountain to ‘exit’ in the pass itself.

Having said all that, this is some of the most incredible mountain country you will ever find yourself in. It’s worth every moment of the long approach, the bush bash to get onto Castle Crag, and the vagaries of the weather once you’re up on top.