Mount Bisdee & Mount Victoria Cross

Climbing Mount Bisdee in February 1995. The Southern Ranges, Southwest Tasmania. Victoria Cross

Republished from The Irenabyss Gallery – The Photography of Matt Brain 

Mt Victoria Cross Southern Ranges.image
Mt Victoria Cross Southern Ranges. Taken in 1998 on a return to Mt. Bisdee with the Launceston Walking Club.

We no longer had a compass but there was no question about the direction we should be taking. A biting westerly wind laden with rain lashed us from the right, affirming at least that our course through the fog was correct. It was around 7:30 pm and the fading light meant that somewhere above the clouds, the sun was getting low in the sky. We were standing on the small plateau just south of the summit of Mount Victoria Cross in the lee of some rocks, slamming down our last uneaten biscuits on this ‘day trip’ out to Mount Bisdee.

Precipitous Bluff.image
Precipitous Bluff. From below Mt. Victoria Cross.

The day had started beautifully; camped near some shallow tarns on an exposed saddle connecting Mt. Victoria Cross to Mt. Wylly, we had listened to the distant bird calls in the forest below as the still pre-dawn light became a golden curtain of colour descending on the eastern cliffs of Precipitous Bluff. Much time had been spent enjoying the views from our campsite and later from the summit of Victoria Cross which we had rapidly climbed, time we were now running short of if we were going to see our sleeping bags instead of huddling together in our rain coats under a rock.

The unsuspecting tents.image
The unsuspecting tents. Note the Minaret (left) is facing more to the south than the Eureka.

 From the summit that morning, Pip and … had leisurely returned to the tents while Kim and I headed north. We soon discovered the northern end of Mount Victoria Cross becomes a narrow broken ridge of dolerite columns requiring much zig-zagging and route finding. The forward progress being slow, we began looking for a gully in the west facing cliffs that we could safely descend. After a couple of false leads ending in sheer drops, we had descended one that looked promising. Often the base of dolerite cliffs in Tasmania can provide an easy traverse, but here the cliffs continued down into the forest in several places with tough myrtle and scoparia making progress no faster than had we stayed high.

Federation Peak.image
Federation Peak. From Mt. Victoria Cross.

 

La Perouse.image
La Perouse. From Mt. Victoria Cross.
Pindars Peak.image
Pindars Peak. From the summit of Mt. Victoria Cross.

 

New River Lagoon and the Southern Ocean.image
New River Lagoon and the Southern Ocean. From Mt. Victoria Cross.

 

Mt. Bisdee and distant Hartz Mountains.image
Mt. Bisdee and distant Hartz Mountains. Cloud shrouds the valleys of the Salisbury and Upper Picton Rivers.
Mt. Bisdee.image
Mt. Bisdee. Taken in 2010 on the Vanishing Falls Trip, note the foreground rock is still in the previous photo.

  

Mt. Bisdee and Bewsher Saddle.image
Mt. Bisdee and Bewsher Saddle. From below the escarpment of Victoria Cross.

 After losing more time clambouring through the unyielding but picturesque myrtles, we finally made it to clearer ground below the northern ramparts of Victoria Cross. This gave some brief respite as we descended to Bewsher Saddle, the sky now overcast and threatening. The saddle provided the usual botanical obstacles as we aimed for a small elevation on the northern side. Of most interest was the discovery of several blazes cut into the larger trees. These were all old and didn’t mark any particularly clear route. They may have dated to one of the earlier trips, possibly even one of Keith Lancaster’s expeditions.

By the time we had reached the prominence on the northern side of the saddle, low clouds were scuttling past the crags of Victoria Cross. Fortunately from here, the pace improved and we were able to thread our way around the thicker belts of scrub before finally gaining open slabs of dolerite that lead to Mount Bisdee’s summit.

Bewsher Saddle and Victoria Cross.image
Bewsher Saddle and Victoria Cross. From the first elevation north of the saddle.

 

We had at least been fortunate enough to see the unique view from Mount Bisdee – the wide tea-tree clad ridge heading north to Secomb Scarp and the more distant Bob’s Knobs, the unique view of Precipitous Bluff outlining the northern highpoint, and the whip-like tail of Victoria Cross that bifurcates from the ridge we had followed to an eastern outcrop.

Bobs Knobs and Secomb Scarp.image
Bobs Knobs and Secomb Scarp. From the flanks of Bisdee.

 We had attained the summit around 3pm and not long after that, the squalls rolled in.

By the middle of Bewsher Saddle we were wearing all the clothes we had carried and we were drenched. No rain coat keeps you dry when you have to wriggle, twist and slide through a thick tangle of cutting grass, banksia, tea-tree, bauera and other classic species.

Fortunately forward progress in Bewsher Saddle isn’t too bad compared to some places and we had started moving with the sense of urgency that being a whole mountain away from your tent brings. It was somewhere here that we lost the compass, probably snagged in one of the denser trees that we smashed through.

Victoria Cross and Precipitous Bluff.image
Victoria Cross and Precipitous Bluff. From Mount Bisdee’s summit. Bewsher saddle is right of centre.

 While trudging back up the northern slopes of Mount Victoria-Cross, we had decided to risk gaining the ridge-crest early to avoid the time-consuming forest again. This proved to be the correct decision although we had been concerned as we ascended about the time we would lose if had found our- selves on some sheer northern rampart. The biggest disadvantage of gaining height early was that we were now very cold, with the searing wind buffeting us as we made our way over the slippery boulders toward VC’s summit.

And so we found ourselves descending Mt Victoria Cross in dim light using the incessant wind to keep direction. Below the steep pine-apple grass clad gully and the boulder field we passed through one final treacherous patch of scrub beneath VC’s prominent southern bluff where low scoparia obscures the gaps between boulders. Next we were nearly running down the more open slopes.

Bobs Knobs and Mount Bobs.image
Bobs Knobs and Mount Bobs. Note the scrub across Secomb Scarp.

 Unfortunately, the tents were getting a hammering. We had pitched them into a mild north-westerly breeze and now we were being pummelled side-on from the southwest. At least they were still standing – Pip and … had fortunately reinforced all the guy ropes as the weather had deteriorated. After getting some food on board, the two girls came over to hear the story of our 13.5 hour sojourn, making a point of avoiding our wet, slimy, scrub-covered raincoats in the tent vestibule. After a few hands of 500, I set to sewing up the holes in my trousers inflicted by the scrub. We were awoken several times in the night by the noise of the billowing tent and we both made sorties outside to push the pegs back in.

Camped below Mt. Victoria Cross.image
Camped below Mt. Victoria Cross. The weather wasn’t quite as good as the previous day.

The wind abated somewhat towards morning and as the light increased we were amazed at the new shape of the tent. This was a reasonably new three-hoop tunnel design (a Eureka Expedition), but from here on it had an asymmetric curve to the poles, having spent the entire night being pushed over. We were fortunate that we didn’t snap a pole and probably owe this to the attention that Pip had paid to the guy ropes in the afternoon.

Kim and I were pretty chuffed with having attained Bisdee, and the side-trip proved worth it – had we ascended Precipitous Bluff instead of heading out to Bisdee, we would have found ourselves at PB High Camp in that wind, moreover we wouldn’t have seen the view from the top. As it was by the next evening, the weather had settled again and we were able to enjoy the stunning vista from Precipitous Bluff, one of Tasmania’s most iconic mountains.

Mount Bisdee is named after John Bisdee who together with Guy Wylly are the only Tasmanian recipients of the Victoria Cross, awarded for their action defending and assisting wounded comrades in the Second Boer War in September 1900.