A Long time coming….
I have spent a heck of a lot of time in Southern and South West Tassie but for some reason I had never walked the Southern Ranges between Precipitous Bluff (PB) and Lune River. Sure, I’d been up PB from New River Lagoon in a day trip back on the South West Epic but I’d never actually done the whole Southern Ranges walk. It had been an itch I had been trying to scratch for a long time. I had several itineraries saved on the computer (as I have for many walks) and for one reason or another, ‘a better option’ or ‘bad timing’ had always come up when I had tried to venture into the Southern Ranges. Well, not this time. In late February 2020, the band (Mowser, Crawf, Woolza and Beaui) got back together and found a window to go and knock off the range.
A simple plan
Mowser, Beaui and Woolza head down the night before, stay at Southport and meet Crawf on the track the next day (he would drive down very early after a family birthday event). The plan was to spend 4 nights on the ranges as an ‘out and back’ to PB mission. As was the trend in our middle age, we planned to pack light and walk fairly fast.
After a nice evening drive from Launceston to Southport the three amigos checked into the Southport Hotel (highly recommend) and had a quiet beer and some cards before an early night….
DAY 1 – Lune River to Ooze Lake (and Mt La Perouse)
We awoke in our room at the Southport Hotel bright and early and by about 6.45am we were on our way for the short drive to the Moonlight Ridge Track. By the time we got organised at the trail head we were away and walking at 7.30am – right on target with our aimed departure time. We knew that Crawf had left Launceston at around 4.30am so he wasn’t far behind.
We started off following the well trodden track along the old rail line that used to transport excavations out from the old quarry at the base of the climb. We were at the quarry within 20 minutes and then the slow plod began. We knew we were now in for a long hike as we started the steepish ascent up through some beautiful forest. After about 1.5 hours and near the end of the forest, Crawf caught us up. We had been communicating on our UHF radios during the walk so weren’t surprised when he appeared with a big smile on his face!
Regrouped at the top of this first climb, we headed on up Moonlight Ridge which began to reveal its fire ravaged former forest and low lying scrub. The damage extended beyond us to the hill ahead. A few years before a large fire had been through and this was well evident as we crossed an expansive plateau towards ‘Hill 1’. We had a couple of muddy kilometres crossing this area and then started another slight ascent through a beautiful alpine garden to start sidling the hill.
As we progressed we were rewarded with some fantastic views. To the north Adamsons Peak was only a few kilometres away while to the east we could see the Tasman Peninsular and Bruny Island. To the south west we spotted our first objective for the day, Mt La Perouse! We continued around hill 1 which then revealed hill 2. We sidled this also before stopping for some lunch after nearly 5 hours walking. The stop was brief and we continued on. The weather was overcast but nice. We climbed up onto hill 3 which provided some great views as we crossed over the top. There were lots flat and thing pieces of dolerite and it felt very arid here. At the end of its summit ridge we descended into a beautiful grassy meadow with Mt La Perouse as our backdrop. Magnificent walking! Then 40 minutes after lunch we arrived at Pigsty ponds and stopped for some water at a creek. A couple of hundred meters on, we dumped packs and started the side trip up Mt La Perouse. At this point we had been walking for 6hrs 15 mins. The ascent up the peak was open and pleasant and we arrived the the bare and expansive summit plateau 50 minutes after leaving our packs. We spent some time taking in the view and getting some photos. We could now see our whole trip ahead and Pindars Peak stood proud to our west awaiting our ascent tomorrow. With the clock ticking, we headed back down and arrived back at our packs in just over half an hour.
At this point we popped the packs back on and started the final ascent for the day up to Maxwell Ridge. It was fairly steep but short and it wasn’t long before we were atop of the ridge. We traversed along it for a few hundred meters before heading down the pad to a ridge of scrub. For some reason, in my head, I had imagined this section to be wide open and easy walking but nearing the end of a long day it was anything but that. I had taken the scrub pants off and my exposed legs meant that I copped a good scoparia scratching on the way down and across to Ooze Lake. The track was obvious but scratchy none the less. After what seemed like hours (but was really only 1hr45mins from the La Perouse turn off), we finally arrived at Ooze Lake to setup camp after nearly 10 hours since departing the car. After setting up camp we were treated to a magnificent sunset with great views of PB, Mt Wylly and Mt Victoria Cross. We were pumped for the next stage. After taking a few sunset and night time pics, it was time to retire for the evening with another big day ahead…
DAY 2 – Ooze Lake to Wylly Plateau
After a great nights rest, we rose at around 6.30am to a cool but clear day. Literally not a cloud in the sky! This was gonna be great! After a very relaxed brekky we gradually packed up, enjoying the weather before hitting the track at around 8am. We each headed off at our own pace taking in the views as we climbed around the flanks of Lake Mountain, following the ridgeline towards Pindars Peak. As we rose, things just kept getting better. From a distance Pindars certainly looks daunting. I had gazed upon it for years and finally today, I would get to stand atop its summit. Excited was an understatement! We moved pretty quickly up the ridgeline following the well trodden pad. After about 40 minutes, we crossed to the southern side of the ridge and now climbed up below the main ridge inching our way towards the peak. 1 hour and 20 minutes after leaving camp we arrived back on top of the ridge and spotted a line to the summit with intermittent cairns. We dumped packs and grabbed a jacket for wind protection then headed up. 20 minutes later we arrived. With 360 degree views, it truly was one of the best summit views I can recall. We were ecstatic. We had a full view of the south coast all the way to South West Cape, while to our east we could see as far as Maria Island and Schouten Islands and Freycinet on the East Coast. To our north we had full views of the peaks as far as the eye could see with the likes of PB, Federation, Picton and Anne featuring prominently. Close by were Wylly and Victoria Cross – our next two stops for the day!
After a good 15 minutes on top of the mountain, it was time to head back down to the packs. We quickly made our way down and continued on our way. Strictly speaking, this is where the ‘track’ ends. We had taken a good look at the road ahead from the summit and knew where we needed to get to. The journey there we expected to be rough.
Descending the flanks of Pindars we followed its north west ridge with some nice open walking for the initial section. Then at about 3 hrs since leaving camp we arrived at the very much expected wall of scrub (near Pandani Knob) that the pad fed into. We had a brief stop to don scrub gear (pants, shirts, gloves) and then proceeded to ‘head in’ to the thick of it. We’d heard many stories of the next section causing some groups lots of navigation grief. However, we found the going not too bad and we progressed well arriving at the small exposed camspite near Leaning Tea Tree Saddle about an hour after putting on the scrub gear. It took us perhaps another hour to climb the small knoll above the saddle before descending quickly into its second saddle area. We decided to stop here for lunch. We pulled out the ever hand Helinox Ground Chairs and settled in for an extended lunch break of about 45 minutes. The sun was now beating down and we drank as much water as we could out of a small soak nearby. We had seen basically no water all day. We refilled our vessels then at about 1.45pm, head off towards Mt Wylly. Again into some scrub we forced our way up the next gentle hill and across it before another slight descent where things began to open up. We could now see a pretty good line towards Wylly and tracked quickly up its flanks. The track we were on was fairly well defined and we didn’t have any trouble through any of the scrub. Just under two hours from the lunch spot, we found a good flow of water and again filled up our drink bladders. We decided that we’d probably find water closer to Wylly Plateau so chose to just grab what we needed. A couple of hundred metres further on, we dropped packs again then made our way up to the summit.
It was a short open walk to the summit. We arrived to a strong breeze but the skies were still clear. The views were again generous and it was great to look back on the walk we had just completed over the last two days. It looked like a long way back! We enjoyed the views but didn’t stay long. We were now keen to knock off the final Abel for the day! With that in mind we raced back to the packs and made the short walk over to Wylly Plateau. After descending off the peak we followed a lead over the plateau where we arrived 8.5 hours after departing Ooze Lake. We found some nice open campsites on grass with good shelter from the surrounding scrub. We couldn’t however see much in the way of water. Hmmm. With that, and the time of day in mind (it was now nearly 5pm), we dropped our packs and made the dash across the expansive plateau linking Mt Victoria Cross to Wylly Plateau. We made quick progress towards the peak and kept our eye out for water. Near the base of the peak we spotted a small tarn and kept that in mind for later. We were very much in track-less country now but there was evidence of a faint pad through the scrub around the base of the peak as we began to sidle and ascend. This pad quickly petered out as we arrived at the base of the main climb so we just followed our nose up the flanks. All four of us were fairly spread out each picking our own slightly different route but we all arrived on the summit plateau around the same time. The climb up was lovely and again the views on top spectacular. It was a quick trot over to the main summit cairn which we reached after 1hr 15mins from our campsite. The wind was now stronger and with the sun now quite low in the sky, it was cooling off. Crawf and I felt fairly energetic so decided on a light jog back to camp with the hope of refilling on water on the way. We left the others to take their time and headed back. After a quick descent we passed the tarn we’d seen earlier but decided against refilling there as it looked a little dubious. We arrived back close to camp about 40minutes after leaving the peak and then spent the next 20 minutes looking for water but to no avail. After an assessment of the situation we decided we had enough for the night and would look further the next day. Worst case, we would head back to Mt Wylly where we had refilled earlier.
After this we quickly setup camp after nearly 10hours since departing Ooze Lake. It had been a long day but with three Abels in the bag and some amazing views, it was one of the best days hiking in recent memory! We had a relaxed dinner before retiring to bed pretty much straight away. As we drifted off to sleep it started to rain….
DAY 3 – Beaui and Crawf’s date with destiny
A new day dawned. Well it tried to. It had rained pretty much non stop all night. And not that light rain. It was heavy rain. We awoke early and looked outside. Water was definitely not a problem now! I filled up our pot from a pond outside the door and cooked a morning brew. I had pretty much already decided that I was going nowhere today. Woolza and I had the luxury of having already climbed the ‘big boy’ for the trip (Precipitous Bluff, better known as PB) on our South West Epic Walk some years before. On that occasion we had climbed it from New River Lagoon (NRL). And while it would have been nice to climb it again I certainly wasn’t too fussed if I missed it today. For Beaui and Crawf however, it was a different story. They had an appetite for this peak however the rain might sway them. We mused on the scenario for an hour or so but after a couple of passing showers, the two decided to have a crack and take it on. We had some good long range UHF radios so we’d be in communication all day. Then at around 10am the lads headed off in the rain towards the peak. We strolled with them to the end of Wylly Plateau and then waved farewell as they tore off down to a saddle.
We headed back to our tents and enjoyed a day of reading with some photography in between showers. The boys gave us regular updates over the radio. Water was everywhere but the weather did find some clear patches for them. Within 4.5 hours they radioed to tell us they were on the summit! Nice work. They didn’t hang around long and started the return leg after constant showers they arrived back at camp in another 4.5 hrs where we had a warm drink waiting. What a day! The boys had conquered a mountain high on their bucket lists! Meanwhile, Woolza and I enjoyed a very relaxing day. Now for the return trip….
DAY 4 – Exit Strategy
We awoke on day 4 to the sound of heavy rain and strong winds. It had been a rough nights sleep and I had spent the last couple of hours in bed psyching myself up for yet another day in my hiking career of awful weather on a scrubby and exposed mountain range. Rising early, we had a quick hot drink, some breakfast and then proceeded the pack up in the rain. On with full warmth and wet weather kits we prepared ourselves for a rough day. The plan was to get to Pigsty Ponds, a couple of back past our first nights campsite at Ooze Lake. The pack up was quick and we headed off from Wylly Plateau at 6.45am.
I was thankful that I had been able to have a days rest as almost immediately after leaving the campsite we began to feel the full force of the wind. As we sidled back up and around Mt Wylly we walked through thick mist and sleet along with massive gusts of wind. It was a wild day! Only 20 minutes after leaving camp, as we sidled the mountain, one large gust picked me up, pack and all, and carried me forwards through the air about 5 metres! Holy shit! Crawf, who was behind me, looked on in awe as I stuck the landing! I turned around instantly to asked if he’d seen it but I knew straight away from the expression on his face that he was impressed. The excitement over, we plodded on and caught up with the others who were slightly ahead. After this we were glad to enter the scrubby section to Pindars Peak. It would provide some much needed shelter … for the time being.
Two hours after leaving camp we arrived at Leaning Tea Tree Saddle. It felt as if the weather was getting worse with more constant rain and heavier wind. As we stopped very briefly for a snack a thought entered my mind of walking all the way out today. I didn’t want to voice it yet until Beaui asked ‘what do you think camping will be like at Pigsty Ponds?’. My response ‘I think i’d rather walk out’. The other two were on the move so we kept this little suggestion to ourselves and moved on with the main climb for the day ahead of us. We didn’t really stop for the next 2.5 hours. We made rapid progress up through the scrub to the flanks of Pindars and after reaching the base of the main peak, traversed the track that goes under its northern face then pops up over to the southern side of the north east ridge. We were hoping that this section would provide some shelter but it did not. It seemed that we could not find a single spot that wasn’t exposed. It was going to be a long day. We found the best spot we could for a rest and had a drink and donned some more warm clothes under our wet weather gear. Getting dressed was easier said than done in the wind but after a few minutes we were back on our way down the ridge to Ooze Lake. It was around this point I made the suggestion of walking all the way out. There wasn’t a real response, a few mumblings about ‘let me get my head to pigsty ponds first’ or something along those lines but I knew the seed had been planted.
We arrived at Ooze Lake 6 hours after leaving Wylly Plateau but we didn’t stop – the wind was ripping through here and it wouldn’t have been a nice campsite today! On we continued towards the climb up Wylly Plateau. After crossing the scrubby section around Knife Mountain we climbed up on to the plateau and copped the full force of the wind again. So, we moved quick and got ourselves over to the other side quickly. Nearly two hours after leaving Ooze Lake we arrived at the creek crossing near Pigsty Ponds and again had a brief stop, this time for lunch – if that’s what you’d call it. We stood in the shelter of a bush in the rain and wind and shoved what food we could manipulate out of our packs. My mountain bread disintegrated in my hands but i managed a couple of mouthfuls with some twiggy and cheese. Washed down with some fresh water it would have to do. I spent the day constantly nibbling on snack bars and wet scroggin so I felt ok.
The weather was starting to get to the others and we were now at our designated campsite for the evening. Looking around at the wind literally blowing the water out of the ponds I looked at the others and gave ‘the look’ – ‘so should we just head all the way out?’. I asked. ‘Yep, let’s give it a crack, worst case we camp in the forest on moonlight ridge’ was the response. So, with this brief conversation and having already walked some 14km in some of the worst weather we had ever seen, we started on the next 16km. We had been going for 8 hours. It was go time!
One thing we did know is that it was basically all down hill from here. Easy… right.
The final decent climb of the day was up Hill 3 beside Pigsty ponds. We launched into it and things went well. Nice, open walking is normally great. Unless… you have one of the windiest days on record in the Southern Ranges. As we headed up the hill, the wind seemed to turn it up a notch. We’d walk forward a few steps then get blown sideways 5 metres, pack and all. We couldn’t talk to each other and trying to get some footage or a photo was almost impossible unless you got low to the ground. I’d have to say – I was having an absolute blast! Warm in my fully enclosed shell, I trudged on and just watched in awe as the other in front of me would get buffeted from side to side as we headed up the hill. Down below I could see Pigsty Ponds being blown away. This was insane! After a lot of laughs we crested the hill and began to find some patches of respite as we traversed hills 2 and 1. 10 hours after departing Wylly Plateau, we arrived at the burnt out forest section at the top of Moonlight Ridge. I was happy to be here in mud and scrub and some relative shelter! It was another hour or so before we were back into the forests of moonlight ridge at which point we passed some inbound walkers. A few packrafters and hikers had setup at one of the forest camps for a weekend trip away. ‘Good luck’ was about all we could say as we walked by. We were now transfixed on getting back to the car and getting to the Southport Hotel for dinner before it shut. As is normal for me, the closer I was, the quicker I went.Once we were near the old quarry, the boys, knowing my style, ‘let me loose’ and off I went to warm up the car and arrange a quick departure for us. I arrived at the quarry and felt like i’d finished but I knew there were atleast another 20 minutes left. I doubled down and sped up finally arriving at the car 12 hours and 45 minutes after departing Wylly Plateau some nearly 30km covered for the day. And what a day! The boys weren’t far behind and gave muffled whoops of joy as they finished. I was so tired i couldn’t get my wet boot laces undone. A pair of pliers in the car fixed those!
Then, it was in the car for the short drive to Southport. We arrived at the pub and dinner had finished. However, so legendary are the owners and staff, they cooked us up some special fish and chips along with several cold beers. We regaled the owner with an account of our day and quickly retired to bed where we all fell into comas. An epic day to finish an epic walk.
Oh, and after checking the weather stats at Maatsuyker Island (nearest weather station – directly across a small section of ocean from where we were) that day the biggest wind gust for the day – 135km/hr. Windy!
The next day, we awoke and started to catch up on the news. There seemed to be a lot going on with this disease called COVID. How our lives were about to change….
WALK STATS (recorded on a Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire)
DAY 1 – 9hrs 44min, 25.60km, 1738m ascent
DAY 2 – 10hrs 1min, 13.34km, 1272m ascent (watch died on summit of Victoria Cross)
DAY 3 – 8hrs 50min, 14.31km, 1105m ascent
DAY 4 – 12hrs 33min, 27.05km, 2088m ascent (watch died at quarry near finish)