The Spires: A long-form journal of pure Tassie mountain adventure
Pokana Peak – Conical Mountain -The Spires – Bonds Crag – Reeds Peak – Stepped Hills – Mt Wright
The day started early for our 10 day off-track South-West adventure, picking up Shelly (one of the trio going on the walk) from Evandale. We drove to Hobart to collect Nick (the other walker) and were in Maydena by 10am to meet Josh and Luke, the blokes who would boat us across Lake Gordon. We headed up Florentine Rd, leaving my car at the entry to the Lake Rhona track where we would finish 9 days later. We piled all our gear into Josh’s car and headed to Clear Hill Rd to put the boat in Boyes Basin. The lake is currently VERY low, so getting the boat in was a bit trickier than we had hoped, but there were no major hiccups and soon we were on the water heading off for adventure! The trip across the Lake took about 30 minutes, so it wasn’t long before we jumped out of the boat in squally rain showers at Pokana Bay. The landscape was amazing. The lake was so low it looked like a nuclear wastel==and, blackened by silt build-up and dotted with long dead trees. We walked north along the lakeside for about 2km before reaching a small creek at the base of the low range that was to be our starting point for the== next day. It was late in the day by the time we reached the creek, so we set up camp and sat around the map, figuring out how we should best make use of our time in the area. Card games and good chats were had before an early night, ready for the big day to follow.
We woke nice and early and were soon walking up an open buttongrass lead heading up the small range we had camped beneath. At the top we had a good view of our next destination, The Pleiades; a long range that stretched out to our first Abel of the trip – Pokana Peak. Descending into a small scrubby gully and up another open lead got us to the top of The Pleiades after about 3.5 hours of walking. The walking along the range was nice, relatively open and studded with outcrops of quartzite crags. We stopped for lunch in a saddle just before a particularly slow and scrubby section of walking. After a few hours of slow pace we came out onto some more open walking, where we had the opportunity to ==drop packs and take the 45 m==inute side trip up Pokana Peak! The view was great; we could see everywhere we planned to walk – The Spires, Perambulator Ridge, Mt Curly, and The Denison Range. We had some delicious caramel slice (Shelly’s birthday treat – it was her birthday today! YAY!) whilst enjoying the stupendous surrounds. Returning to the packs and walking north for an hour brought us to a small lake nestled around some low peaks. We found a very suitable campsite on a little island, a short 1 metre jump from shore. It had been a big day, but very rewarding!
We were up and walking early again, set for another huge day of tromping around the mountains. The weather had come in with a thick morning fog, so we had to make sure we were staying on top of the ridge that would take us in the right direction. The walking was lovely, the very low alpine vegetation and gentle undulating terrain made for happy walkers. We reached a small cliff face with steep gullies that we needed to get down in order to cross to another ridge, so some pack hauling and an ascent (that looked worse than it actually was) had to be tackled. We were soon greeted with views to Conical Mountain and Shining Mountain, and the smooth walking between them. We walked up Conical with ease (this one is an Abel!) and found a great place for lunch. The view was stunning; The Spires were looking delightfully close. After lunch we went over the top of Shining Mountain (not an Abel, but a nice mountain nonetheless) and started to descend the ridge off the back of it towards The Spires. Big clumpy buttongrass made for slow going and floppy ankles, but we were soon at the base of our ridgeline up to The Spires. The ridge however, looked heavily forested and awful, so we made our way up some scrubby moraines just down from it. The going wasn’t easy, but it looked better than the alternative. We reached a small shelf just beneath a hanging lake called The Font and found a small pad (the main way into The Spires is the route we took, so naturally a pad will form, even with little foot traffic). The pad lead to the horrid looking ridge, so we guessed there would be a pad all the way down which may be easier walking. We also found a small log book in a PVC tube. It was placed there in 2005 and was only onto the second page. Our party was about the 20th in 11 years. We set up camp just above The Font, tired after such a huge day, but elated to be in such a remote and stunning part of the world.
A cruising start to the day as we were planning on staying at The Font one more night and exploring The Spires today. The sunrise treated us with low lying fog and a hint of smoke in the air, casting orange light over cloud tops. After a lazy breakfast we started to climb up into the peaks of The Spires. The more the morning fog burnt off, the more evident the smoke was and it soon built up around us. We had visibility to only about 3-4km, which was concerning. After a failed attempt at the back side of The Spires we traversed around the front peaks to find a solid lead all the way to the top. For such a towering peak it was relatively easy to climb and once we made it to the top it became an instant favourite and a memory I will always cherish. The view; marred by the smoke, was still gorgeous. The length of The Spires range meandered south with craggy obtrusions and towering cliffs. We used the opportunity to find some phone reception on Shelly’s phone to check fire reports and contact loved ones. Thankfully there were no threatening fires around us or where we wanted to go that were of need for concern. We zipped down the summit to an adjacent peak called Flame Peak. Another great view, as this is the peak that towers above The Font with its sheer cliff face plunging some 150m down. We found a shady spot for lunch, and then Shelly headed back to camp whilst Nick and I went to explore some of the other towers in The Spires. We had wanted to go a few kilometres south to some other peaks, but the hot weather and difficult terrain made swimming in The Font a more appealing idea. After an hour or so of clambering around, we descended back to camp for an afternoon of relaxing in the water, napping and playing cards.
We had a long day ahead of us, so an alarm was set to get us up and walking by first light. We left The Font via the pad down the ridge that 2 days prior had looked like hell. It was okay, a decent pad but still a lot of scrub to push through – certainly easier than the way we came up though. We crossed a small creek at the bottom of the ridge and went over a little rise to find our best way onto the next ridge to walk – Perambulator Ridge (named so because it would “be easy to push a pram along this ridge” – Sounds promising!). There was a small stretch of scrub between two high points that looked unavoidable, so we jumped right in! It was slow going at about 300 meters an hour, the scrub was so thick is must look comical from an outside perspective. Always fun to have a bit of a proper scrub bash! After 50 minutes or so we had gotten out onto the base of a lead up to Perambulator with nothing else than a few more scratches and a good sense of humour buzzing. One could not push a pram over Perambulator Ridge unless it was a 4×4 pram with very high clearance, ergo, a terrible name. The going was a little slow, no doubt due to the scrub bash from earlier and the beating sun, but after a few hours we had reached a high point with a view to our destination for the next few nights – the beach on Lake Curly. We had lunch on the high point and then more or less made a bee line straight for the beach, pushing more scrub aside with the thought of jumping in the lake firmly placed in mind. About 30 minutes later we were all enjoying a very well earned swim in the beautiful waters of Lake Curly. The thick tannin on top of that lake had warmed up over the past few days’ heat and we floundered around in the water for quite a while. We then found a beautiful little campsite nestled in the tree line a few metres from the beach and began to settle ourselves in. At about 7pm we heard the sound of scrub being bashed, and a few moments’ later 3 tired but smiling faces popped through the bush onto the beach. John, Graham and Becka (of the peak-bagging blog Rockmonkey fame) looked just as surprised as us to see someone else! We had a good talk after they had set up camp and exc==hanged track notes, as they were going to The Spires and we were heading the way they had come. Our evening was relaxing, skipping rocks on the lake and playing Hitty-Rock-Thong (hitting small rocks with a thong into the lake – genius!). We were all happy to be having a rest day tomorrow.
A very relaxing morning, sleep in and breakfast on the beach. The other party of 3 had said goodbye and left early to make the most of the cool morning. At about 9am we decided to walk up Mt Curly, the peak that sits next to Lake Curly. It isn’t an Abel, but== it is a very fun walk consisting of low buttongrass scrub and fun quartzite crags to clamber up. We reached the summit in 90 minutes and had almost an hour sitting on top enjoying a light breeze. The descent down took only about an hour and the rest of the day was taken up by naps, reading, swimming, Hitty-Rock-Thong and reflecting on what a beautiful place we were in.
Another early morning alarm was set and we were walking by sunrise. A decent pad lead us north for about a kilometre and then east into Badger Flat, toward our goal for the day – the Denison Range. Open buttongrass plains for the first few kilometres made for quick walking, but the weather started to worsen after a few hours and soon we were in thick fog with rain showers coming through frequently. We cut underneath a small mountain called North Star; had the weather been better we would have summited it for the view. We also found ourselves in some thick patches of scrub that would have been avoidable in better weather. Relying on map, compass and GPS plotting, we slowly made our way to the base of a very big ridge up to the Denison Range. We stopped for lunch and the weather stared to clear into a beautiful afternoon! We had been told by the trio we met at Lake== Curly that there was a decent pad up the forested ridge and thank goodness we found it! The bush was very thick and it still took a few hours to move from the base to the top of the range, but without the pad it would have taken a whole day of exhausting uphill scrub-bashing. We were greeted by the stunning sloping rocks of the Denison, views to Bonds Craig and Reeds Peak, and the gorgeous little glacial Lake Wugata where we camped for the night. A cold, but refreshing swim was had in the lake and we were treated to a stunning sunset with low fog defining the surrounding peaks backed by more of the ever present smoke haze.
The morning greeted us with a spectacular sunrise and coloured the peaks gold. A very brisk wind was hooning over the range as we broke camp and headed off for what promised to be an easy and rewarding two-Abel day! After half an hour of walking along the range, with a few stops to scramble up interesting crags we made it to the base of Bonds Craig. From where we dropped packs it was a 5 minute scramble to the top. And what precarious top it was! The top rock was at quite an angle and a few metres high, with two slopes dropping away for some metres. I threw caution to the wind and scrambled up to the top; not too difficult of a climb, but just a little hair-raising. After 10 minutes on top we went back to our packs and walked along the range toward the second Abel of the day, Reeds Peak. Dropping packs once more we walked up to the top of this dominating point and were rewarded with a fantastic view along the range. The angle of the rocks were just unreal, you could easily visualise the big uplifting of earth that would have built this mountain range. We were joined on top by a family of seven from Launceston who were camping at Lake Rhona, so we expected there to be minimal camp sites left for us. We spent the next few hours walking down the well defined track to Lake Rhona, stopping at some points to explore the cliff lines, crazy rock formations and alpine vegetation. It was beautiful walking and when we reached the lake it was easy to see why this place is widely regarded as the most beautiful lake in Tassie! We found a camp site just off the gorgeous white beach, hidden in a scrubby patch well out of the southerly wind that was blowing. The rest of the afternoon was spent eating lots (we were very hungry by now), playing Hitty-Rock-Thong and many games of Yaniv and Black Bitch.
We set another early morning alarm as we had decided that instead of walking out on the track to the south, we would head south along the Denison Range and then onto Stepped Hills. By the time we got back onto the Denison a thick fog had gathered and we had to do a little bit of navigation to make sure we headed in the right direction. We easily stuck to the well defined ridge and found the walking to be super-duper. Low vegetation and mild visibility made the first few kilometres fly by. At one point we walked over a patch of ground that had been recently burnt, most likely from lighting strike, but had quickly run out of vegetation to burn. The smell was thick in the air and it was an interesting intermission. We dropped off the Denison Range and found a grassy saddle to connect us to the ridge that went up to Stepped Hills. Along the Stepped Hills ridge we encountered a pretty rough looking patch of scrub that was unavoidable, but it turned out to be less horrid than it looked. We pushed though it with relative ease and soon after had a stop for lunch. After lunch we headed towards the peak, dropping packs at a point we would later return to so we could continue down into another valley later that day. The summit took us an hour from the packs and was probably one of the more interesting Abels I’ve been up. It was huge lumpy conglomerate rock, weathered into some fascinating shapes that Nick pointed out “would make a great place to shoot a Country and Western”. From the top we had a great view of the fire that was raging at Strathgordon and again made contact with loved ones saying we’d be out tomorrow. We also called the police to ask a==bout road closures and they told us to drive north up Florentine Rd, which was good to know because we had planned to drive south! By the time we returned to the packs we were starting to run low on water, as we hadn’t encountered any all day (we’d had 3 litres each), so we started to change our plans for the night. Instead of camping on the ridge beneath Mt Wright, we would camp in the valley between Stepped Hills and Mt Wright. We descended into the valley and as soon as we found some suitable water we stopped. Feeling pretty buggered after a huge day, we were all asleep before the sun went down.
We set an alarm to get us up early so that we could finish the trip in reasonable time. We still had one more mountain to tackle and we were slightly unsure of what terrain we would face for the day. The day started pretty clear, but in the hour it took to reach the saddle south of the ridge on Mt Wright, some low cold cloud had gathered. Regardless, we dropped packs and headed for the summit. The walking was fine, although the light rain and mist had made the quartzite pretty slippery when we got to some scree sections. By the time we made it to the top the weather had some clearing sections and we actually had a good view! The way east didn’t look that great, which was a shame as that is where we had to go to finish the walk. We got back to the packs with a semi-decent route in mind and the thought that we’d probably encounter some thick scrub. To our surprise, this was not the case! Most of the vegetation was semi-open snow gums with clumps of buttongrass, which made for easy walking. Within an hour we were down in the Vale of Rasselas hunting for the track to get us back to the car. It was very easy to find, as after 10 days of off track the small path looked like a highway. And we sped along! Crossing the Gordon River after 10 minutes of being on the path; the Gordon was so very low that we could walk across without getting wet feet. Tassie, you need some rain! From there it was a relaxing 40 minute walk to the car where some cold Ragged Jack beers awaited us under a log (thanks Nick)! What a way to end a trip!
The Spires and general area we were walking in is a stunningly beautiful region. The feeling of remoteness is truly humbling and my visit there will be a cherished life-long memory. I’ll be back….141 Abels left to climb.
Zane Robnik is an avid bushwalker. The 24 year old from Lilydale in the state’s north east works as a bushwalking guide and also spends a lot of his spare time exploring the vast areas of wilderness in Tasmania. He is currently undertaking an adventure to become the youngest person to climb all 158 Abels (Tasmanian mountains above 1,100m), to add to the challenge he’s trying to achieve this goal in the shortest amount of time – 18 months.
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