Saturday, 12 April 2014

Mt Anne, Southwest Wilderness

As we left Tullamarine on Thursday afternoon in Biblical rain, I was half expecting conditions in Tassie to be like something out of Noah. I was also worried there'd be flight delays as we had to make Ray's for a few items and the supermarket for some fresh food. It was my first interstate flying-camping outing, with some inherent challenges fast making themselves manifest.
But after Mt Field a couple of years back, I was eager to get back to the Wilderness Isle. Charlotte was definitely up for it, and Lucie (having just turned seven), was pretty keen too. Balti was still too young though and was going to spend a fun weekend with maman.
Luce had been unwell the week leading up to our weekend, and she is still awaiting her initial growth spurt, so I was a little hesitant - I just didn't know how she'd cope, especially if it was cold and wet. From the map though, it was evident that a hasty retreat back to the car was always an option if things were turning pear shaped or there was any evidence of general paediatric meltdown.
At Hobart Airport we bumped into Phil who'd brought his two eldest lads, and after sorting hire cars and shopping we were soon on the road in the dark (with me trying desperately for the girl's sake to avoid roadkill, a task that soon proved impossible).
At Condominium Creek, steady rain set in. As the boys pitched tents, I was glad to have hired a station wagon and voted to car-camp for the night to avoid wet gear in the morning.
It wasn't a comfortable night, which at least made for an early start. Brief showers were still coming through, leaving some pretty spectacular rainbows in their wake.  

There was plenty of 'are we there yets?' on the steep and relentless ascent from the car up to the very cute High Camp Hut. We were glad to finally have shelter from the rain, but with the kids' stuff sodden, I was worried they'd get cold. In our (my) biggest significant miscalculation for the weekend, the Hut's old chimney had long been bricked in. So as well as being unable to dry out, we wouldn't be able to cook our hearty steaks except with our small gas reserves. The chimney at least proved useful for some climbing.

After warming up the kids with some noodles (for Lucie, noodles were pretty much a solitary raison d'ĂȘtre for the entire weekend), the elements looked like clearing and we thought we'd make an attempt for Mt Eliza to keep young bodies warm and maybe even dry things out a little.

For kids with a fresh injection of calories, the moraine leading up to the summit was like a gigantic jungle gym to the clouds. However after eventually catching up with them, I discovered that Charlotte had started heading up with Phil's boys in nothing but a pair of stockings. In what is hopefully a lesson for her teenage years, she soon got cold feet. Fortunately daddy's gloves fit her freezing feet adequately for the descent.

After more rain, we got a brief but spectacular sunset. Lucie and Charlotte were soon fast asleep in the loft and had to be manhandled downstairs for dinner. Phil and I washed our steak and taters down with a nice Tassy pinot and stayed up chatting before surrendering ourselves to the alpine hut rodents that could allegedly chew through packs, and who fed on the small and weak. 
Luce slept next to me just in case.

We woke to a spectacular sunrise, and a feeling that the worst of the weather system had passed. Although Lake Pedder continues to incite strong emotions for many an environmentalist, it is still nonetheless incredibly beautiful, and the wilderness around and beyond it seemingly stretching forever. With both the Eastern and Western Arthurs and Federation Peak visible to the south, Mt Anne is a perfect initiation to this vast and unbelievably beautiful area.
We felt confident enough with the weather and kids to press on up to Anne and make camp on High Shelf. With older boys and an extra day up his sleeve, Phil had also decided to complete the full Anne circuit. The only problem was that having already exhausted a good portion of our gas on meat, he would need the extra cylinder we'd unwittingly left at base camp. I was up for a bit of a run though, and was more than happy to yo-yo back down to the cars for the latter along with a beer for Phil and some extra clothes for the girls. I was back by the time they were all packed, and soon we were all clambering up the moraine again in clear weather.  

We were soon at the summit, with splendid views in every direction. 
The tree line in Tasmania finishes at about the same altitude as Mountain Ash starts in Victoria, and it's a shame there are few higher peaks than 1600-odd meters, and that the snow pack at these lower altitudes is not a little more solid. The ski-touring would otherwise be vast and exceptional, and one can only marvel at some of the insane lines in these parts when glaciers once ruled. I would be a little more excited were global warming causing an unaccountable new Ice Age.
As it is, catching a brief but heavy snowfall is still a possibility that I dream of: a day-trip from Melbourne even, when the many stars of free time, fitness, weather systems and available cheap flights collide.

The stroll to the Mt Anne massif was very pretty. The girls came up with 'Mt Anne'; 'Mount-Anne'; 'mountain'; and it really is quite imposing. The dolerite columns grant an almost architectural elegance, with naves and buttresses like some ancient collapsed cathedral or temple. Or even older, like something Mayan perhaps.    

That's the thing with Tasmania: only another State - a mere hop across a Straight, and yet one becomes instantly aware of having almost entered the hallowed atmosphere of another planet. Much of the vegetation here is primitive Gondwana remnants, and the odd dinosaur wouldn't be entirely out of place. It is a space where a human feels distanced, and there is something strangely atavistic yet comforting in this notion. Like time travel perhaps...
Whatever, pretty soon we had to stop again for more noodles.

Two weeks prior, I had drowned my favoured camera in a canoe misadventure at the Prom. Whilst not particularly expensive, it was very compact and took exceptional photos without too much effort on my part, which is how I like it. So I was frustrated that a heavier and more complex next-model-up replacement had proven so disappointing last weekend at Dinner Plain. Whilst Tasmania probably warrants more than a point-and-shoot, my expertise with SLRs is poor, and something lighter and simpler is better to get the kids interested (the above photo was taken by Charlotte).

We arrived at the junction for High Shelf Camp, and Phil declared that he wasn't up for summiting Anne this afternoon, if ever. It did look rather steep and technical from up closer. We also agreed that establishing camp was a priority. The camp site below was obvious from the ridge, and whilst spectacular, tent sites looked sparse. There was also a bit of wind about up high and I was worried that High Shelf looked too exposed. Most of the rest of the surrounding terrain was moraine though, so there were few other options. Later on we would witness another group blundering about on the ridge above for hours with head torches and realise just what a good decision we'd made.

Having scrambled down under the imposing rock faces of Mt Eve the wind died down and the campsite below became quite appealing with incredible views both east, and west to the crazy 1000 metre cliffs and columns of Anne itself. You'd have to travel to New Zealand for a more impressive mountain landscape.
We cooked some more noodles, and pitched camp after finding a few non-rocky patches of alpine grass. Phil's boys were up for climbing Anne, as was Charlotte - however Lucie was far less enthusiastic, which frankly was a huge relief. For Phil also who needed the company.   

The approach to Anne was spectacular, with amazing light now falling on Mt Lot, and Lot's Wife. Again I found myself gaping at the vastness of the wilderness.
A party up higher was making the obvious east facing chimney up to the summit look a lot harder than it appeared, and as we scrambled up over increasingly steeper pitches of moraine, I started to have my first misgivings about taking a 9 year old to the summit. 
The first few obstacles were easy enough for the lads, who were great at helping me help Charlotte who simply didn't have the reach for certain hand and foot holds.
The next section though involved shimmying along a wet cantilevered ledge with a sheer 20 metre drop, and then a vertical 10 metre chimney. Even if I'd had a rope, this would have been too much for Charlotte who was still keen at this stage. 

We climbed down and backtracked, skirting towards the southern ridge looking for an easier line. I told Charlotte to stay put whilst the boys and I had a scout around. And in fact we almost managed to summit after some fairly technical free-climbing. We were probably about 50 metres from the summit when Phil's younger lad mentioned that he couldn't believe what we were doing when it finally dawned on me that, having left my own child down below because of the risk, I shouldn't really have been putting other people's kids at risk either. And as we confronted the last extremely tricky pitch, I called it a day. I'm not sure if the boys were relieved or disappointed, but the climb down was already going to be difficult enough. The views were already extraordinary, and I wasn't in any position to deal with one of the boys freezing up on a ledge or cliff face.

We took the climb down very carefully, and soon I was back with Charlotte who'd collected a nice bunch of alpine wildflowers, a thoroughly less hazardous pursuit but equally satisfying. 

There have been a few deaths in this area, with several memorial plaques on the way up. I would probably be happier with a rope next time, and I don't think that this is a mountain to be cavalier with, particularly if wet or icy. I doubt it has ever been skied but would like to either be proven wrong or be the first! In hindsight, Mt Eve might have been a more appropriate summit with kids.

As we scrambled back to camp, the sunset started to strike up the mountains ablaze in glorious fiery hues with the dolerite columns creating crazy geometric shadows.

As dusk settled over Mt Lot, everything became very still and Zen, and we felt very privileged to be here. Another couple of blokes arrived and set up camp, one of whom bizarrely enough turned out to be one of my colleagues. What were the odds of that?

Whilst we'd been climbing, Phil and Lucie had been cooking up a storm. As the day finally faded, we were treated to a lentil and beef dahl curry, complete with fresh coriander. A camp meal never tasted better. It had been a big day, and pretty soon I had a couple of extremely tired wombats. We were going to need a real alpine start in the morning if we were going to make it all the way back to the car, and then Hobart in time for our aeroplane.

We woke at four, and by the time we'd had coffee, breaky and broken camp, the sun was rising behind Lot. There was a healthy covering of frost and ice over most of our tents and packs which the Byron Bay boys would have found a novelty. And soon Mt Anne was picking up the first rays of the new day in a very spectacular display.

The light-show provided enough splendour for the two girls to get thoroughly sick of my photography, and I had vowed to be on the trail by seven. Phil was already having an anxiety attack at the prospect of traversing the 'Notch' (the most notorious part of the Mt Anne circuit) later in the day. We wished him and the boys well, and said our goodbyes: it had been an epic few days.  

In fact we made pretty good time back to the car (especially after I took first Lucie's and then Charlotte's packs on top of my own). I also set a cracking pace and was surprised how they continued to keep up. We made Mt Eliza in an hour, the hut in another, and the car in little over a third. 
The entire Mt Anne circuit could really be run in a day and would make a fabulous ultra, or fastpacking in an overnighter from Melbourne. But hopefully next time will be spent on skis.

Pedder and the Arthurs all the way to Federation Peak were magnificent in the early light, but what I was most captivated by was the early light refracting dew on the incredible tapestries of microflora. Again the kids thought I was a lunatic on my hands and knees photographing sphagnum cushions and mosses, but I was used to their laughter by now.

As we descended the moraine from Eliza, the bad weather came in again with the peak looking bleaker by the minute and I thought of Phil battling the Notch. No doubt we'll be returning to attempt the same one day when the girls are older and stronger. For the moment though, this had been great enough an adventure for them, and one they could be rightly proud of. 

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