The 17th annual winter feast will be remembered as a ski trip. Because if it was not a ski trip I and a good portion of the participants walked 10km in ski boots and with skis strapped to their backpacks.
As we drove into the trailhead, none of the snow that fell the previous weekend was left on the ground. There was a fair amount of optimism over the predicted 40cm of new snow overnight. So, many of us optimistically carried our skies the 5km into the hut with the hope that we would wake up Sunday to a thick blanket fresh, white powdery snow to ski out on.
As well as being a ski trip the Midwinter Feast was a chance for everyone to breakout their favorite back-country dish to enjoy a pot luck style banquet. So at least the food and company was great.
Because the skiing on this ski trip sucked.
Its been a while since I tried a completely new sport. Not that I don’t love to do it from time to time. But just keeping skill levels up on the sports that I have already committed to takes a lot of time. Learning to canyon has some attractive incentives however. I am able to re use a lot of gear and skills already acquired through kayaking and rafting. It also offers to teach me rope skills, something that I have been meaning to improve for quite a while.
The biggest carrot dangled in front of me however has been the plans for exploratory canyoning in Tasmania. Just the thought gives me goosebumps. How often do you get the chance to go truly explore something new?
In preparation for this endeavor I have been signing up for as many trips as possible. Over the Canberra day long weekend the ANU mountaineering club put on a three day canyoning extravaganza. A crash course in canyoning.
A big benefit of canyoning is that it leaves plenty of time for photographers. You do not need to stop the entire group in order to photograph the action. There are plenty of bottlenecks created by the abseils that leave plenty of time. Perfect for photographers. In fact the first day seemed like more of a photography group than a canyoning group. All but one of us carried a camera. At one point we were in a photographer menage a trois, three photographers taking photos of each other taking photos.
Nightmare seemed to be one long abseil. Gab revelled in the rope work but it gave me plenty of time to scout photography angles. I was also surprised to find that Nick admitted to being scared of heights. Obviously he was not too scared as you can see in these photos.
Our last canyon was Devils Pinch and probably my favorite. Being the wettest canyon it was the only day where putting on a wet-suit was actually worth while. Some of the party decided to wait until the wetsuit was absolutely necessary leading to some amusing water dodging antics.
The Arthurs at sunset.
In the South West Wilderness, surrounded by kilometers of rain-forest, rising above the already impressive Western Arthur’s stands Federation Peak. Just like it has done for thousands of years. You can get to it. But you’re in for a hard slog.
From the first time I saw it while flying to the start of the South Coast I knew I wanted to stand on it. An urge that grew the more I learnt. The fact that Edmund Hillary declared it the only mountain in Australia worth climbing, that half the people who attempt to climb it are turned back due to weather, or that it is known as one of the hardest walks in Australia.
It’s a reputation that is well deserved. Getting to Federation peak was a hard slog. The track is steep, but you expect that from a mountain range. It’s muddy all the way up the ridgeline, but we knew that. There are guaranteed to be all types of rain/hail/storm/sweltering sun, all par for the course in Tasmania. There are long days, mosquitos and leaches but still nothing out of the ordinary. It’s still all standard operating procedure for Tasmania. What took the biggest toll was how overgrown the trail was. Kilometers and kilometers of ducking, weaving and hurdling. A marathon obstacle course.
For our approach we were blessed with fantastic weather, the storm only setting in as we reached the base of Luckmans ridge. It came through in waves finally settling into a full thunder hail storm. We spent a cold night on campsites of the Arthur’s ridge line. That night I found the limit of my current camping equipment just before falling asleep. Looking around, I saw that everything from floor to ceiling were wet. Luckily my triple bagged sleeping bag was the last thing to stay dry.
The next day we continued along Arthur’s ridgeline to Federation Peak. By then the hail had stopped but low clouds still stopped us from seeing down into the valleys but made for dramatic glimpses of the range. There ridgeline featured plenty of tricky sections though mercifully not overgrown.
A break in the clouds on the way to Goon Moor Campsite.
I mentioned earlier that only half the groups that reach the peak are able to complete the final summit. While weather is one of the main contributing factors, it is easy to see that exposure to height and difficulty in finding the correct rout also cause problems for groups. The final leg to Federation Peak is incredibly exposed. Simply by looking over your shoulder you can see straight down 600 meters to Cockroft lake. You are in fact looking down at the tallest cliff in Australia. It is suggested by most guidebooks that groups use ropes, but we were “relatively” comfortable soloing. Our choice was somewhat reinforced when returning from the summit. Another group was heading up planning to use ropes and harnesses. While they were arguably safer, they spent more time on the pinnacle and its exposed weather only barely making it back before sunset.
It is possibly because of our success in summitting that I was not mentally prepared for the walk down. While it takes about two days to summit Federation Peak it is around the same time to come back down. But how hard can walking down a hill be? Well, so I thought. It’s a good reason to pay attention to the track notes. For the next two days we wound down and around the Mossmans ridge slogging through days of overgrown track.
We couldn’t help but think that the reason for the trails being so overgrown is to keep walkers on easier tracks like the overland or even the South Coast. I certainly cannot think of many people who I would recommend this walk to outside a walking/mountaineering club. For a mountain that is only 90 km away from Hobart is surprisingly hard to get to.
But if you like the idea of standing on top of the tallest cliff in Australia, surrounded by what can only be called a vast wilderness, then it is a hell of a walk.
Cold nights are also clear nights. And Saturday night was cold! So cold that taking the above froze the wine in my cup. But no complaints, the weather for the second mountaineering weekend was near perfect. While the previous weekend had us learning how to use crampons and ice axes this weekend introduced us to ice climbing. I have to admit that climbing with that many sharp instruments was strangely scary. I normally don’t get much of a buzz from heights. I will just have to say that it was ridiculous fun.
After seven years of living in Canada it was nice to get out to the ice once more. Strangely enough despite living in a frozen continent I never really learnt how to properly use crampons and ice axes. This is something that I have really enjoyed about the ANU Mountaineering club. The exchange of skills between members. While I have been able to take members for the first whitewater experience during the weekend those same members were able to show me the finer points of mountaineering gear. Like how to stop slides and stop from tripping over with crampons in the first place.
Echo Point Hut Sunset
The Overland track, it turns out is a great track to do on your own. Huts at the end of each day as well a constant stream of people passing you in case anything goes wrong. You are never really completely isolated, its kind of like a hikers highway. This is a good thing if like me you have been meaning to do the Overland for some time but could never line up trekking partners.
The huts are only one of the reasons that the Overland is easier than other walks. Just the knowledge that at the end of the day there would a roof and space to dry out was a huge comfort. The huts themselves were the best I have come across in Australia so far. But as the guide books tell you, they can fill up quickly and I was glad to have my bivy sack. Especially on the nights where there were snorers in hut. One particular night, after already moving outside I was forced to relocate again to a place closer to a river to get away from loud snoring.
While I am glad to be able to tick off the Overland I think if I were to come back to the track it would have to be in winter. There are too many other Tasmanian trails beckoning.