An adventure into true wilderness – March 2021
The Spires, ah, The Spires. I had dreamed of heading into this area of South West Tasmania for such a long time. I’m not exactly sure when I had first heard of this rough, off track walk but I can definitely remember first seeing photos of part of it as a teenager. Once, when I was around 16, I found a book on my parents’ bookshelf titled, ‘The World of Olegas Truchanas’. I still remember first reading that book. I opened it and became transfixed on both it’s story AND it’s photography. Olegas Truchanas was a true pioneer in every sense of the word and it was such a shame he was taken too soon. I often think of him when I am in some off track region. I remember reading the book, wondering at Lake Pedder and what could have been, then, at some stage while reading the book I came across a photo of a much, much smaller lakeside beach on a small span of water named Lake Curly. ‘That looks pretty cool’, I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to go there….’
Well, that was some 25 years ago and ever since, I have always had the trip that entailed a stay at Lake Curly, high on my list of ‘must do hikes’. So, having not done a good extended trip of more than a week in some seven years (since our Franklands Trip – 4 kids can make it tough to get away for this long), it was time. I’d been planning this Spires trip since around 2019 when I first postulated the idea to my core hiking crew of Beaui, Crawf and Woolza. I proposed to them that we should ‘knock off’ The Spires and The Eldons in the next couple of years. They gave some indication they were keen but in my minds eye, it would happen sooner than later.
Immediately after our Southern Ranges trip in 2020, and amongst an unforeseen COVID-19 lockdown, for me, the planning and logistics of the trip commenced. I liked the idea of starting from Lake Gordon and finishing at Richea Creek (Lake Rhona Track) but that meant a lot of car shuffling which would be a bit of a pain. Crawf (route planner extraordinaire) then chimed in with the idea of doing a big loop, commencing and finishing at two different points on Lake Gordon. It also happened that a friend of ours (let’s call him ‘Gerv’), had done this exact itinerary a couple of months prior. This itinerary proved that we could easily climb the Abels of Mt Wright and Stepped Hills on the trip out. Bonus. The only issue would be having a boat at the finish line AND another vessel to get us to the start. After a phone call I recruited another regular face on our walks, Ferg, who just happened to have a very suitable boat to drop us off in. Ferg was more than happy to drop us off (thanks Ferg :). It also happened that Beaui and Woolza and myself picked up a very cheap dinghy in the weeks prior to the walk so our finish line transport was also sorted! We were good to go!
Prologue – Mon 8th March 2021
Given we had to travel from Launceston AND the fact we had to do a boat shuffle, I was keen to get down to Lake Gordon the day prior to the official commencement date. This would allow plenty of time to drop the finish line boat off and also allow time to have a bit of an explore of Lake Gordon. I’d head down solo and meet Ferg, while Beaui, Woolza and Crawf would come down later in the day. Getting up early, I jumped in the car and towed our little dinghy down to Granton to meet Ferg with his boat. At 10.30am we departed Granton in convoy and made our way to Maydena for a quick lunch stop and then on a bit further down the road before turning into forestry roads and towards Boyes Basin. We followed unsealed Clear Hill road for around 35km and arrived at the fairly rough ‘boat ramp’ about 1.5 hrs after Maydena. It was a beautiful day and we had both boats in the water pretty quickly after some careful boat trailer reversing on the tight gravel boat ramp. After loading the finishing dinghy with a few treats for the end of the trip, we set sail and slowly made our away across Boyes Basin to the base of Stepped Hills in our boats. The weather was overcast but warm. There were a heck of a lot more standing dead trees than I had expected and this made things a little slow with the navigation but after 20 minutes we were on the other side of the basin at a suitable spot to hide the boat.
With the little boat safely hidden and tied to a dead tree on the shore, we were now aboard Ferg’s much nicer and bigger boat. With the sun shining bright, the two of us decided to have an explore around the lake. We spent a good 3-4 hours travelling all around its many basins and stretches of open water and even managed to get all the way across to the dam wall, a trip of an hour each way! While we travelled, I had a good look at the ridgeline of ‘The Pleiades’, the set of hills we would need to traverse the following day. While it didn’t look too bad from here, I thought to myself ‘those rocky ridgelines in the last half of the day look like hard work’. The entire time in this afternoon we marvelled at how the mighty Gordon River once flowed through this rugged landscape. It was with a bit of a heavy heart that we travelled across its namesake, Lake Gordon, wondering what once was. The barren, broken shore line and dead trees all over the lake certainly don’t do this landscape justice……
We returned back to the boat ramp in the late afternoon and after dinner, the rest of the team arrived with one other special guest, Troy – a good mate who had come to wish us farewell over a beer. After a couple of quiet drinks and some discussions about the next day’s route up onto the range, we all camped by the boat ramp for the evening, finding rough campsites on the lake shore. The years of rising and falling lake levels made the whole scene pretty desolate and ugly. Despite this, the four hikers went to sleep excited in anticipation of a big trip ahead…..
Day 1 – Tues 9th March 2021. 6.55km, 9hrs, 1084m ascent
We awoke by the lake shore after a pleasant sleep. The weather was overcast like the day before. It had been a warm night but a slight breeze was now up and we had beanies on as we prepared a quick breakfast before packing up the cars and loading all of our gear in the boat. We farewelled Troy who had to head back to Hobart and a bit before 8am we launched the boat and made the short trip out of Boyes Basin and across to Pokana Bay, our starting point. It was a quick trip with Ferg offering some precision navigation through the vast expanse of dead trees lining our route. Bleak would be an understatement.
We arrived at the shore and after a bit of mucking around in the shallow shore and squelchy mud, in which Ferg piggy backed me to shore to keep my feet dry, we found dry land and said our farewells to our good mate Ferg. As he slowly made his way back in the boat we watched him disappear realising that we only had one way to go now. Up. With vigorous enthusiasm, we headed off along the lake bed and quickly found the low scrub that led towards the ridge we had chosen to take us up on to The Pleiades. It had been a little while between scrub bashes and in our enthusiasm, we had all donned scrub gloves, but felt over pants would be over kill. As such, it wasn’t long before our legs were scratched to bits, but we enjoyed gradually making progress and quickly gaining some elevation up a fairly steep ridge.
Back in the rhythm and having done a lot of off track walks together, the four of us found our groove and after 2.5 hours we had made it to the top of the first big climb of the day arriving at the top of the ridge which would lead us to the main Pleiades ridge line. Mist was now coming and going and and the wind blowing a bit of a chill through us. We donned our jackets and continued on, negotiating some rock outcrops that topped the ridges. As always we had to decide whether or not to follow the top of the ridge or to skirt around the sides. We chose to skirt the western side to begin with and made good progress through fairly light scrub. As we rounded the first couple of outcrops we decided to find a spot to stop for a bite to eat and after just under 4 hours of walking, we stopped in a small scrubby valley for a quick bite to eat. It had started to drizzle and we were lucky to find a very short gap in the rain for food. We looked ahead at what looked like a slightly scrubby ascent onto the main Pleiades ridge line and after lunch we were excited to tackle it and get moving as the drizzle started again.
We moved on up through the valley and it seemed to take forever to get to the top. What we thought might have taken half an hour ended up taking closer to one hour. ‘Welcome back to the South West’, I thought to myself. The rain was now becoming fairly constant and the wind was chilling things off so we tried to keep moving. At the top of the ridge, we approached the next large rocky outcrop again opting for the western side. The scrub was a little thicker here but not too bad and it wasn’t long before we were in an open button grass saddle heading towards the next clump of rocks.
This band of rock looked a bit trickier. Scrub was getting much thicker on both sides and the weather getting worse. We chose the western side again and then after a bit of sidling we found ourselves heading up on to the top of the outcrop for a clearer lead. About 2.5hours after lunch, we arrived at a small saddle in the rocks and with the wind now howling we found some shelter on the eastern side and decided to throw on some more layers of clothing. I was starting to really feel the cold! I’d been in shorts until now but quickly put on the overpants as well as a thermal and pullover under my goretex shell. I also whipped out some new waterproof gloves I had just recently received and it is incredible the difference these made so quickly! I have trialled a lot of glove systems but the Temres Showa are now my go to glove for hikes such as this!
Warmed up and reinvigorated, we headed on along the rocky ridgeline aware that now negotiating outcrops, things were now going much slower. Throughout the day we had been very loosely following our spiritual guide, Gerv’s route which we had obtained from him prior to the walk. But along these ridgelines even a route such as this isn’t exactly useful. You have to go very much on feel and ‘following your nose’. Over the next few sections we had to check a few false leads and retreat to find a better route, all the while seeing our proposed camp location not too far off in the distance. We had now chosen to stick to the top or just off the top of the rocky ridge and negotiating the various dips and grooves of the ridge was taking time. But, 8 hours and 45 minutes after leaving the shore, we arrived at the final open button grass plain leading up to the junction of the ridge leading to Pokana Peak. Arriving at this junction, we spent about 20 minutes reviewing the accommodation. Luckily the rain had now stopped and just the wind remained. Very large tufts of button grass covered the entire area which made picking a site difficult however we eventually found something very cosy and sheltered tucked in beside a large boulder. It even had views of Pokana Bay and the route we had just covered. It would suffice for tonight.
Exhausted, we setup camp and were all straight into tents with dinner following straight away. It was an early night to bed on some fairly uneven and chiropractic ground!
Day 2 – Wed 10th March 2021. 10.14km, 8hrs 45min, 935m ascent
We awoke at around 7am on day 2 to misty conditions after an undulating nights sleep on our ridge top location. Given our very tight location, we were keen to pack up and go pretty quickly. It was hard to even try to get out of the tents. After a casual tent bound brekky, we gradually packed up and it wasn’t long before the wet boots were back on and we made the final pack up of camp. At least it wasn’t raining. By 8.30am we were on our way making the very short walk up to the ridge junction. We found a bunch of rocks and dumped our packs, just taking the bare essentials with us for the short trip out to Pokana Peak. The landscape here was all button grass with some light scrub and rock bands in between. We moved quickly without packs and crossed two saddles before arriving at the final climb to the peak. It was enjoyable walking and so nice to be on this type of terrain after yesterdays mixed bag.
After 55 minutes, we made the final easy ascent to the summit of Pokana Peak. I was surprised to find a surveyors concrete marker thingy here and we sat down beside it in the mist for a snack and photo. The wind had dropped right off and it was actually on the warmer side as we didn’t take in the views due to the thick mist. We were really happy to be on this peak as in our heads it had always seemed so remote and hard to get to. We all felt that it would probably be the only time we would visit it so we had a good rest and after about 20 minutes, reluctantly started the trip back to the packs. Another 55 minutes later, we were back at the packs and after a snack we commenced our walk towards the next climb not too far away through the mist. I had a bit of a sense of foreboding about todays walk and the many climbs we would have throughout the day with a full load on my back. But, an hour after donning the pack we were at the top of the next ridge and were starting to get some views of the two unnamed lakes below us to the north (which we had pegged as potential camps for night 1). The walking, while still very misty, was beautiful. Along wide open ridge tops with no scrub we made good progress. It was a really enjoyable section of walking. As we began our descent to one of the main saddles of the day, the mist began to lift and we could see our route ahead – a big climb. But we would worry about that later. There was a steep, scrubby descent to take care of first.
We continued descending towards the saddle while it gradually became steeper. About half way down, the gradient became too much and wanting to get further north and closer to the saddle, we followed a rocky cliff line eventually finding a very steep chute that would lead us down towards the saddle proper. Dropping around 30 metres vertically through some thick scrub, clambering to trees and dropping straight down, the chute felt like no problems for Woolza and I. Having spent much time handling similar descents and climbs all over the south west this was part of the deal for us. For Beaui and Crawf however this may have felt a little new. ‘Welcome to the south west boys!’ I yelled back as I was the first to reach the base of the chute. With myself and Woolza down, now with just a small descent to the saddle to go, we stopped for a breather and a snack as the sun started to shine. From our vantage point we could now see Crawf and Beaui at the top of the chute, starting their way down. After what felt like a long time, they slowly clambered down with us shouting directions and advice from our commentary box. Nearing the bottom, Crawf claimed to become ‘stuck’ between two trees. ‘Just jiggle a bit’ I called out, to which Crawf apparently did. This was followed by a loud ‘Pop!’ and then by Crawf cannon balling down through the final bit of scrub to the bottom. Arriving to greet us he was about to comment on the descent when he instantly realised his pack’s main harness buckle was now gone! ‘You’re gonna want to find that’ was my response. I did have a spare harness belt buckle for such instances (from past experience this is a ‘must bring’) but he had also lost the webbing which would make things much harder. So, we headed back the short distance and had a good look for twenty minutes before giving up the search. Day 2 of a 10 day trip and no pack harness…. ‘Hmmmmmm’, I thought. We decided to have lunch and ponder this. It was now 4.5hrs since departing camp. As I dived into my rehydrated Ramen and Tuna Salad (Delicious by the way), Crawf, while trying to cobble together a new harness, discovered that the buckle and webbing were all still attached to his pack and had somehow become tucked into a pocket behind the pack’s cushioning?!? They detached in one part and had then hidden themselves! Lucky!
After a bit of a laugh and a good lunch, we donned sunscreen and made the final short walk into the saddle that had seem to have taken all day to get to. Now, in the heat, we started the big climb of the day. Forming a peloton, we took it in turns at the front and made great progress upwards through the scrub following the ridgeline. The scrub didn’t last long and started to give way to more open low lying vegetation. We now had grand stand views of Mt Curly and Lake Curly to our north (where we hoped to be in a couple of days) as well various other peaks around the state including our destination of the Denison range in coming days. The weather yesterday was now retrospectively bearable given what we were seeing today. Awesome.
It wasn’t long before we reached the top of the ‘big climb’ of the day and then made the descent to the next saddle before climbing again. The walking now was just magic. Top weather and fantastic views all around – I was absolutely loving this! And the off track aspect, well how good is it? Just following your nose, and figuring things out as you move along. So good. We enjoyed moving along at a good pace and had already made the decision that today we would only go as far as Shining Mountain (originally, we were aiming for the Font). We wanted to make the most of this weather and take some time to enjoy it. The only issue would be water. We had seen very little since leaving Lake Gordon and had so far relied on small soaks and puddles from recent rains. 2.5hrs after leaving our lunch spot, we commenced the final climb up to Conical Mountain. Again, pleasant walking, we followed the ridgeline to what looked like a broad summit. We quickly climbed the summit ridge and dumped packs at what looked like a good spot to continue on to Shining Mountain. I grabbed all my camera gear and then made the short jaunt up to the summit on a ridgeline that was narrower than i expected. Woolza was already there waiting for us and welcomed us with a beaming smile! The weather, now spectacular, brought similar smiles to all of our dials and we sat down in the still air to take it all in. Absolutely magnificent. Conical Mountain …… one of the best. We had a good rest here but with Shining Mountain now in arms reach, we were keen to setup camp and have a real relax. We bolted back to the packs and then made the walk down into the final saddle of the day before finally following the gentle ramparts up to the broad and meandering summit of Shining Mountain. I had read somewhere that had classifie camping here was ‘one of the best campsites in Tassie’. Well, I’ve stayed at some of the best (Hanging Lake, Coronation Peak and more.. ) but this is certainly in the top few for me. Wow. After traversing along the summit plateau we found ‘the spot’ just where the descent starts. A grandstand view of the route ahead as well as all the peaks to the west, we arrived at 5.30pm, around 8.5hrs after departing that morning. Over the next few hours we were treated to an absolutely spectacular sunset as well as an amazing nights sky. All four of us saw a massive shooting star and this evening is forever etched into my hiking memory. Photos don’t do it justice. After plenty of chatting and gazing at the stars, we eventually clambered into bed at around 10.30pm. The night still, we slept like babies.
Day 3 – Thurs 11th March 2021. 4.48km, 5hrs 59mins, 625m ascent
We awoke on day 3 just before sunrise. I could here a couple of the others already outside, and looking out the tent door I could see the sky was still cloudless. I could have stayed in bed, but managed to pull myself out to get a few sunrise pics. The view was again spectacular and we took our time packing up camp and taking photos as the sun began to rise. We could already tell it was going to be hot, but took our time and enjoyed the morning.
At 9.30am we were finally all packed on on our way down the ridge off Shining Mountain. The descent was fairly steep to start with and we split into pairs going slightly different ways down the first section, rejoining again after the first descent. It was pretty much all button grass down the ridge with a few dips and rises along the way. We made good progress and after 1 hour were pretty much at the bottom of the ridge. We were still slightly elevated and had a good view across to the small creek we had to cross to in order to commence the climb up to our next stop, The Font. We had spent a lot of time studying todays walk prior to the trip as we didn’t want to spend a day of intense scrub bashing up the wrong lead to our destination. Other trip reports had mixed reviews on the route with some approaching The Font from the wrong angle and up the wrong ridgeline. Looking from our vantage point now, we could see a very nice and fairly open line up along a subtle ridge in the main valley below The Font. With intermittent rocky sections up the spine of the smaller ridge, it looked like a good option.
We descended off our perch and into some thick scrub before reaching the creek about 1.5 hrs after departing camp. We then crossed the creek easily and started the ascent. First through a short section of thick scrub and then through some waist high stuff before starting towards our chosen ridge. Again, we made good progress and once we reached the first band of rocks at the base of ridge climb, we had a good breather in the sun. It was really heating up now and each time we stopped I would drop the scrub pants and shorts to let my legs air. Quite a sight! The shirts were even coming off at each stop as we ascended higher. We followed the rocky bands up the ridge. These were now becoming quite steep but manageable. Between each band there were scrub patches, but overall it was a great route up to the lake. Finally the rocky ridge ended and we sidled around a small scrubby bowl into a saddle and back around towards the lake which was just above us. We then arrived at a white sealed pipe stuck into the ground on a stake. The remote area log book! Sweet! We were nearly there. I took the book with me to have a read at camp and made the final ascent on a pad up through some thick scrub to finally arrive at the small mountain lake known as ‘The Font’ some 3 hours after departing Shining Mountain. It was a pleasure to be here! Feeling very hot I knew It wouldn’t be long before I would be in the water. We stopped on the eastern side of the lake briefly – Crawf and Beaui even jumped in there and then – but we then decided to head to the western side to inspect the campsite there. Woolza and I wandered around and in a few minutes we found a beautiful little site right beside the lake nestled in under Flame Peak. It was straight off with gear and into the water! Refreshment plus, it was wonderful. There were tadpoles everywhere so not wanting them to swim anywhere they shouldn’t I had a quick dip and returned to the camp for lunch and a relax as Crawf and Beaui joined us.
After lunch, we setup camp and got ourselves organised. With the sun shining bright, at 3pm we decided to head off to our next objective of the day – the summit of The Spires. Feeling lethargic, I pulled myself up and we started on the fairly solid pad that ascended up to the saddle besides Flame peak. We made rapid progress admiring the views below as we climbed. We didn’t think this would be a long trip so took our time. Within about 25 minutes we were at the top of the saddle and could see the way up Flame Peak. We’d do that later. For now, we turned our attention to what looked to be the obvious way up to the main summit of The Spires. With the others pondering the fairly steep climb above us, I stepped up and commenced the lead up the peak. We were on the shaded side of the mountain and the slopes up had large amounts of damp alpine scrub and moss covering them. As the climb became steeper this made some sections seem more exposed than they needed to be as a lot of the moss and wet soil was very slippery. As a result, we stuck to the rocky leads where we could and it wasn’t long until we found ourselves arriving back into the sunshine and at the summit of the peak. It was great to be back in the sun after the cool of the shade and as we took in the views we looked across at the surrounding peaks to see that the other ‘spire’ just to our south looked a touch higher than our current summit. This confused us – we had taken around 45 minutes to get to our current point and this aligned with most peoples trip times to the summit. We referred to The Abels notes, but there wasn’t a great deal of detail about which was the correct summit. The other peak didn’t look that far away and we could see a fairly direct looking route off this summit towards it. Having come this far we thought it best to go and climb the other peak to ensure we didn’t miss the true summit.
After a short descent down to a saddle on the south western side we again found ourselves looking up at a steep climb. This one however was very exposed. While Woolza and I felt that it would be ok to climb, the others weren’t as sure so we decided to go with the safer option of descending further west off our saddle and down around the back/western side of the peak. We followed the bases of the cliffs around and after sidling for 15 minutes, found a good looking rocky chute to lead us up to the summit. We really copped the heat of the sun on this side and worked up a sweat, arriving on the summit of the second peak about 1.5 hours after leaving camp. We still couldn’t decide which peak was higher. The two were so similar in height that not even our watches and their altimeters could give a clear answer. Regardless, we had now done both so knew we were safe in claiming the summit. I have to say, I liked the outlook from the second peak better. I looked at the more direct route we had baulked at and decided from this vantage point it was way too exposed for my liking and I wouldn’t be descending that way. We had chosen the right route. After a bit of time on the peak we reluctantly started to make the return journey. We returned to the Flame Peak saddle via different route, avoiding reascending the first Spires peak we sidled around it through a series of a couple of gullies, again in the shade of the peak. We were back at the saddle in good time and then made the very short stroll up to the summit of Flame Peak. This was an easier walk and we enjoyed the views back to the Spires which we had just climbed. I very carefully lowered myself to the ground and had a very wary peak over the edge of the peak to our tents way below – it makes me queasy thinking about the height! Having had enough fund for one day, we headed back off Flame peak and down to the saddle before making the final descent to camp. We arrived back some 3 hours after departing happy with our little adventure. Now hot and bothered again after our foray, I decided to jump back in the lake for one last dip. Refreshed, it was nice to settle into the evening feeling a little bit revived. Another clear night’s sky was on the cards and we spent the evening relaxing and marvelling at the names and notes in the log book which stretched back 16 years. I made our entry just before heading to bed, looking forward to our trip to Lake Curly tomorrow….
Note: After returning we discovered that the first Spire we climbed was recognised as the ‘Abels summit’. The second and harder peak is known as ‘High Spires’. So, we did both and are glad we did!
Day 4 – Fri 12th March 2021. 4.95km, 6hrs 58mins, 417m ascent
The sun rose again and we awoke to yet another magnificent south west day. We had decided on an early rise so that we could get to our destination as early as possible. Lake Curly. We were excited to be heading there as tomorrow would be a rest day. We had managed to get a weather forecast the day before and rain was on the way. We’d make the most of a rest day in the rain at a place I was looking forward to seeing. We also hoped that this afternoon we could find some time to spend on the beach!
We got out of bed in the dark and started breakfast and organising ourselves. It was a quick pack up and by 7.30am we were wandering back around The Font before descending into the scrubby pad. On the way out I returned the log book to its repository and said a quite farewell to the Font by myself …. wondering if I would ever return. After leaving the log book we were back in the sun and the heat was already rising. We followed our same inwards route and after 1.5 hours we were back at the scrubby creek crossing from the day before. We now headed back to the top of the base of the ridge we had followed from Shining Mountain yesterday. After a short bit of scrub we were back on the ridge and now looking east across a forested valley to the ridge we planned to follow all the way to Perambulator ridge above Lake Curly. The problem, we saw now, was the valley between us and the next ridge. It look SCRUBBY. We decided to sidle a bit further north and then headed down into the valley. From above there was quite a bit of forest, so I hoped that things would be nice and spacious in there. What was I thinking? As we descended the valley, things became thicker and scrubbier. Unpleasant would be the most polite way to describe it. The heat didn’t help either. We battled on through the scrub and about an hour and a quarter after leaving the creek at the base of The Font descent we reached the clearer button grass base section of the long ridge we would now follow to Lake Curly. It was a relief to be through the scrub. We postulated on whether or not it was the worst we had been through, coming to the conclusion that the jury was still out. Looking back, at where we had travelled, we saw that if we had continued north along the Shining Mountain ridge we could probably have followed a clearer route. Oh well.
The next few hours was spent trudging through button grass. We had a few breaks along the way ‘airing our legs’ and basking in the sun. About 3 hours after the traumatic scrub bash, we arrived on Perambulator Ridge with a magnificent view of our destination – the Lake Curly beach! Sweet! We surveyed the route ahead. The most common route, we knew, was to continue north along Perambulator and then down to the beach. Initially we thought this the best option but standing there in the heat, with the lake so close we decided to just drop straight off the ridge and down to the lake. ‘Bugger it’ I thought, ‘let’s roll!’ We followed a faint lead initially and then it was off and straight down into thick, waist high scrub. The first step I took into the scrub I heard a massive ‘Riiip’! I looked down at my very nice Arc’Teryx overpants to see a massive rip down the leg. ‘F#$k it’ I thought to myself (and exclaimed to the others). That is an expensive tear. ‘Oh well, what the south west giveth, the south west wrecketh your gear’. I pondered on it for a couple of seconds and then bashed on down through the scrub. It was thick and hot but 40 minutes after dropping off Perambulator we landed in the lake. You could not wipe the smiles off our faces. It had felt like a long day and we were stoked to be here. Standing in the lake, boots on, water lapping our calves we started the wade up to the campsite. We passed a couple of small beaches on the way and took plenty of photos. The lake was beautiful and it was a privilege to be in such a special place. 20 minutes or so later, we found ourselves on the main Lake Curly beach. A short walk to the eastern end and we found a delightful little campsite awaiting. Perfect for our two tents. We dumped our packs, it was about 2.30pm. Knowing we still had plenty of daylight, we took our time settling in, each of us pottering around with gear, getting it drying on the beach. I setup my little solar panel and started charging devices and also hopped in for a brief swim in the lake. We eventually set up our tents and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the serenity of the water and beach. It was yet another campsite that rated as one of the best. We setup our chairs and stoves on the beach and relaxed until the sun set. That evening we retired to camp for cards on a small wooden table Crawf had manufactured from driftwood and reeds! What a day and what a campsite! I was glad we were able to wake in the morning knowing that we had no where to travel. After cards and a bit of laughter, we retired late in the evening.
Day 5 – Sat 13th March 2021. REST DAY
At some stage during the night, I heard the wind and then the rain start. It wasn’t unexpected. I slumbered through the night and awoke at around 8am to heavy rain. Oh well, rest day. I stayed in the warm comfort of my sleeping bag til around 9.30am and then decided it was time to get up. It was a miserable day so we were happy with our decision to get here to rest. We had setup a tarp outside our tent the previous day and it was now nice to have this to sit under in the sheltered campsite. The day was spent doing repairs to gear, reading books and doing a stocktake of food. I love rest days in the middle of nowhere! Each of us had our little projects we worked on and we’d occasionally congregate under the tarp for a coffee and a chat. We spent some time on the beach between showers but there’d be no swimming today. Still, it was hard not to love Lake Curly.
Day 6 – Sun 14th March 2021. 7.97km, 7hrs 15mins, 853m ascent
The rest day seemed to have passed so quick that my enthusiasm for departing today wasn’t enormous. But, we had to do it, so rising early at 6am, we started the repack. It was windy but the rain was staying away for now. This was good as it meant we could pack up in the open without having to worry about getting wet. After a slow brekky and pack up we hit the button grass plains to the north of the camp a bit before 8am. Today was probably the one I had been most dreading the entire trip. From most of the reports we had read, it didn’t get rave reviews with some people talking of several river crossings, very thick scrub and difficulty getting up on to the Denison Range. We had spent a bit of time analysing the route and had decided we would pretty much follow Gerv’s route. We exited camp and headed straight across to the Gell river (which exits from the Lake). An early morning dip was in order and we found a narrow spot in the river and waded, knee deep across. We now made a bee line north east to the bit of an opening at the head of the valley that the river flowed through. At this point we rose up off the plain and sidled around the base of the Mt Curly ridge high above the river. We continued around and were greeted with a view of our route ahead across Badger Flat. We picked a line towards the distant ridge that led up to North Star and headed for it. The next section took us down to the flat and was a mixture of low scrub but mainly button grass. The going was pretty good until we hit the swampy section of Badger Flat. We now picked our way through some deep sections of water sodden button grass and creeks for a few hundred meters eventually rising up on to a small plain on the other side. The weather was ok with some drizzle occasionally blowing through. There was a constant breeze though. Perfect walking weather. I was well layered up and was now actually too hot so I stopped for a few minutes to take a layer of thermals off. The others plodded on while I mucked around. It was off with boots to remove the bottom thermal layer. A bit annoying but necessary. I didn’t want to overheat.
Back on the move, it wasn’t too much longer before we were rising up to the North Star ridge now in some high scrub amongst the button grass. We had already decided we’d give North Star a miss today as we were just keen to get up to the Denison Range. We moved along over the ridge and then down again crossing some more scrubby sections and a creek in the small valley on our way to the second ridge leading to the North Star. We’d now been moving around 3 hours since departing Lake Curly. We were happy with our progress. Climbing up out of the creek through some thicker scrub we gradually crested the ridge with a good view across a broad valley to the final small ridge before the main climb. Gerv had taken a wide approach to the next ridge as there was obvious scrub and forest straight ahead. After a bit of discussion we decided we were keen for more scrub so headed on straight ahead. We moved quickly through the valley and then climbed up through what was lighter scrub and sparse forest to the top of the final ridge. We were greeted now with a grandstand view of the big climb of the day up to the Denison Range. We stopped for a decent rest at this vantage point pondering the route. We had been walking for 4hrs 15minutes. There was a big, gentle drop off below us, which was unavoidable. Then we’d be heading up through button grass before cresting the long ridge leading up to the range. We hoped to find ‘the pad’ that people spoke of on that ridge as it was going to make or break our day.
After picking our line we headed on down through the button grass to the bottom of the valley, crossing another small creek. Now the climb began. Again, it was up through the button grass and light scrub towards the ridge crest. Rain continued to come and go and I reckon I took my rain shell on and off half a dozen times during the climb. Progress was good and about an hour after leaving our rest stop we found ourselves on top of the ridgeline we’d now follow to the top. Just needed to find that pad. We split up a little walking along the now extremely scrubby ridge crest looking for some sign of a pad. I could see on my Garmin watch’s map that the pad was appearing as a track. I headed towards it while the others checked another spot. I penetrated some very thick forest and just as I landed on a virtual track on the Garmin map, I looked a little to my left to see what looked like a track. I pushed on through and sure enough I had found a solid pad hidden below the scrub overgrowing it. I called out to the others and they now excitedly found their way over to where I was. We were on our way! The pad was very, very handy. I really don’t know how we would have progressed well up this ridge without it. The scrub and bush either side was what can only be described as ‘diabolical’. A couple of points along the way it became a little faint but largely we stuck to the pad the entire way up. About 40 minutes after starting on this route, the forest and scrub began to open up to lighter alpine stuff and we briefly lost the pad here. But now in the open this didn’t bother us and we picked it back up a few minutes later. We were now flying up the ridge as it became more rocky and open and finally 6hrs 50 minutes after departing camp we arrived on to the Denison Range. It had been about 1hr 50mins since our rest stop down the bottom.
As we arrived at the top of the ridge we were greeted with the stark reality of the bushfires that had torn through the area two years prior. Throughout the walk, we had largely forgotten about these as we hadn’t seen any sign of them. But now, it became all too real. As we walked up the last section of alpine grass to crest of the range we arrived to a view of Lakes Wugata and Malana. The entire scene was of utter devastation. I felt like I was standing on the moon looking at the lunar surface. The fire had obviously concentrated itself on the valley and lakes to the east of the range and had avoided spreading to where we had come from. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I was gutted. We hadn’t decided where we would camp tonight, but we decided to make our way down to the lakes and have a look. As we headed down, we could see some signs of new life with some pineapple grass re-emerging but it would be years, if not decades, if not centuries before this area returned to its former glory. The wind was howling and we found some shelter as we descended off the ridge first to Lake Wugata. The campsite here, with no scrub to protect it, was completely and utterly exposed. I stood here for a moment before heading on to Lake Malana. A few minutes later we were on the shores of this second lake and reluctantly, with the time being 3pm, we thought we had better stop here tonight as the next option was Lake Rhona and maybe a touch too far. We looked around and saw how bad the fire had been. It must have been an inferno. We looked up to Bonds Craig above to see that every single bit of scrub in every nook and cranny had been burnt black…
Crawf and I found what we thought to be a decent camp spot next to the lake while Beaui and Woolza wandered off looking for another site. Setup was made difficult by the wind that seemed to be getting stronger, and we eventually had the Mutha Hubba setup with rocks in place to hold the guy ropes. The other two had found a spot close by but it was sheltered by a large rock. I thought that looked like a smart option. We spent the rest of the afternoon recuperating after what felt like a long day. Our moods were all a bit depressed given our environs at the current campsite. The wind was picking up more and more and we didn’t really see the other two for the rest of the day. We communicated on radios between tents and had some vigorous discussions about the next days route. We had two options: 1. follow the Denison Range along to Stepped Hills, then the day after do a day trip to Mt Wright and back from there. 2. Follow the range to Reeds Peak, then descend to Lake Rhona and walk the Vale of Rasselas before finishing on the summit of Mt Wright. Option 2 sounded like a big ask for 1 days walk but we all felt we had it in us and as we retired to bed for the evening the consensus was swinging this way.
We were off to bed early with a big day in mind. I fell asleep quickly and enjoyed a few hours sleep before being woken at around 2am to very loud wind gusts. The wind had turned up while we slept and you could now hear it roaring over the ridge above before slamming down onto our tent. With each gust the tent was contorting itself and it was giving me flashbacks to a similar experience on the Frankland Range. After an hour of listening and wondering what was going to happen an almighty gust hit us. ‘FAR OUT!?!?’ or something similar came out of my mouth as Crawf exclaimed something along the same lines. We were both now a little freaked out. I thought of the others in their little sheltered spot. Nice and cosy. After a few more big gusts I decided to head out and check the guy lines. On with rain coat and head torch I braved the wind and rain and did a check on the tent. One guy rope had completely ripped off the tent and blew loosely in the wind. No fixing that. Others were blowing around so I re-secured them and then went and fetched some more large boulders from another nearby camp site and secured the remaining guy lines as best I could. It was then back in the tent back into warm sleeping bag. The rest of the night was spent in fits of sleep in between checking on the tent. A rough night to say the least but we made it through…..
Day 7 – Mon 15th March 2021. 22.51km, 10hrs 9mins, 1158m ascent
So, the night had been a rough one. We decided to ‘wake up’ properly at 6.30am and started a brew and some brekky. The wind was still howling and our enthusiasm was low. I just wanted to get out of here so started a pack up in the tent. Outside, the mist had rolled in and we couldn’t see more than 10 metres. After radioing the others in their tent some 50 metres away, we confirmed our plans for the day. The weather had decided for us – it would be option 2. A big day down to Rhona, then down the vale and nice climb to finish up Mt Wright.
After a wind swept pack up, we were on the trail by 8am and headed back up to the spine of the range. Once we arrived there, it was on! The wind became stronger and we battled on towards Bonds Craig fully kitted up in our shell gear. It was only a short walk to the peak and we arrived there about 25 minutes after departing the campsite. After a couple of misty photos on the cramped summit we moved on. No dawdling today – we were layered up and didn’t want to stop moving. I had packed a heap of snacks and bars in pockets and hip belts for todays trip as it didn’t feel like it was going to be a leisurely walk. As we left Bonds Craig, I began to nibble on one wondering what the next couple of hours had in store. The wind was not quite as bad now and we enjoyed the misty walk along the rocky and open ridge top of the range. One thing we did notice, was that the fire hadn’t really touched the top section of the ridge – possibly due to some of the remote fire fighter efforts around the area that we had read about? With the mist, the next hour and a half was fairly bland just placing one foot in front of the other. We now saw cairns pretty regularly so knew we were on the right route but we kept an eye on our planned route in our watches anyway. An hour and a half after Bonds Craig, we arrived at the fairly obvious turn off to Reeds Peak. We dropped packs and then made the short walk up to the summit. Again, a misty couple of photos were taken and we were straight off the peak knowing that it wasn’t long now until we were getting off the range. As we followed the ridge around to the descent to Lake Rhona, it almost felt like we were starting to slowly return to civilisation.
I whipped out another snack bar out to munch on and we began the descent down to the lake along the regular route. Things became a bit more sheltered and as we dropped in altitude, we began to get a few views of Lake Rhona. We also began to see evidence of the fire again the lower we walked. Closer to the lake, we could see the burnt out button grass and forests. We passed the lake turn off an hour after Reeds Peak and followed the vale route out. Descending rapidly, it wasn’t long until we were at the bottom of the climb up to the lake. Now in the valley, things were heating up again and I stripped back to speed gear – shorts and t-shirts. We were keen to have a good crack at getting through the vale as quickly as possible – next stop Gordonvale. Surprisingly, none of us had actually walked this section of track before so it was new ground and we enjoyed it. The standard was better than we expected but we were constantly reminded of the fire that had torn through with the burnt out forests and plains evident all around. The button grass, of course, had recovered well and was already back in full abundance. Not far out from Gordonvale we bumped into the first other walkers of the trip. A group of four, they were heading into Rhona for a few days. We must have looked a bit of a sight as we had a brief chat and they then continued on towards their destination. Finally, 6.5 hours after departing Lake Malana and 3 hours since Lake Rhona, we arrived at the small oasis of the once bustling Gordonvale created by Ernie Bond many decades ago. I was pretty excited to be here having had my grandfather tell about this place from a young age. Surprisingly, this forested area was largely untouched by the fire and as we arrived at the beautiful, grassy glade we couldn’t have asked for a better extended lunch stop.
With the sun now shining we spent at least an hour at Gordonvale hanging out gear to dry and just enjoying a relax. It had been a mixed bag kind of day and we were glad to be able to kick back for a bit. Stretching out on the grass I had a very brief sit down in my chair before doing a full repack. My dehydrated chickpea, sultana and cous cous salad was delicious and I was now refueled and pumped for our final push of the day up Mt Wright.
It was about 3.40pm when we departed Gordonvale. We continued down the Vale of Rasselas track for about 40 minutes before heading south west towards our next destination. We now made a beeline towards Mt Wright across open, regenerating button grass plains. The ground here was pretty dry so it wasn’t long before we were at the base of our chosen route up. We’d initially chosen a ridge I’d named the ‘Star Destroyer’ due to its shape but as we came closer, we took a ridge slightly further north. We gradually rose up off the plain before hitting the climb proper. We had a good view up towards the infamous Mt Wright Arch as we climbed. Now, it was straight up and we slowed as the incline became steeper and steeper. What a workout! The next hour and a half was a non stop and steep ascent until we finally we topped out on the top of the expansive ridgeline of Mt Wright at about 6.00pm. I had heard there was a good tarn to camp close to around the peak, the only problem was I didn’t know exactly where it was. As I pondered our next move Beaui piped up ‘That tarn there?’ I turned around to peer over a rock and see a perfect campsite about 50 metres from where we were standing right near a small tarn! ‘Beautiful!’ was my response. The sky was clear but a cold breeze was blowing so we hastily headed down to the site. We could see the summit of Mt Wright not far to our north but that would have to wait until tomorrow. Alas, today would not be a ‘3 Abel day’. We setup camp and noted that the fire had even reached this far with most of the scrub around this tarn completely burnt out also. As the sun set, we were in bed pretty early, exhausted after a long but very good day. The end was now in sight.
Day 8 – Tues 16th March 2021. 11.58km, 7hrs, 49mins, 595m ascent
We woke on our last day on the track to a very calm but misty morning. It had been fairly mild and dewy over night and our sleeping bags were quite damp. We knew we had plenty of time so slept in to 7am and started the breakfast and packup routine. By 8.30am we were ready to go and just as we were departing we stopped by another Mt Wright Arch near the campsite for a photo. We now headed north towards the summit of Mt Wright and progressed up the final, gentle slopes to the peak arriving on the summit in just under half an hour from our campsite. We were glad to be here and took the obligatory photos before proceeding off the summit and down through the thick mist to the next valley.
We made our way down the boulder fields off the peak descending slowly and cautiously to avoid any mishaps. We followed the boulders through small stands of burnt eucalypts and arrived at the base of the descent 1.5 hours after leaving camp. The mist was now lifting and ahead of us lay button grass. We began across the broad valley towards Stepped Hills and pretty much headed in a straight line. It took about 50 minutes to cross the plains before arriving at another burnt out forest which we had to descend through to the base of the next climb. At the bottom we traversed through some scrub to a creek and then commenced our final climb of the trip – to the top of Stepped Hills. Very much like the climb up Mt Wright yesterday, it was steep going but probably a slighter gentler incline. We pushed on and reached the peak in clear skies an hour since starting the climb and 3.5 hours since departing camp. The view was brilliant and it was a relief to know that we had just done the final ascent of the journey. With little wind, we sat down and took some time to enjoy the views. Mt Wright was now in full view as were The Thumbs, Clear Hill as well as Lake Gordon. We could make out where we had started the trip and way down below us we could see our little dinghy on the lake shore awaiting us. It looked a long way off. With a bit of lunch in the belly, after about 40 minutes, we reluctantly started the walk down the mountain. We had decided to try and follow the Abels route off the peak to Lake Gordon. Gerv had followed a similar route so we expected it to be pretty straight forward. We followed the ridgeline south before finding a saddle which we then descended into. From here we decided to follow the saddle straight down into a gully that led off it and thus the descent proper began. Initially we were again hopping along large conglomerate boulders moving slowly downwards. The entire area was entirely scorched and burnt with regrowth beginning. It was hard not to brush up against the burnt limbs and after 40 minutes of descent we were painted head to toe in black soot.
The sun was now shining high in the sky and in our chosen gully it was getting very hot. This descent was taking longer than I had hoped and looking at our view to the lake below, we still had a very long way to go. As we dropped lower it also became scrubbier with more burnt out trees and bushes scratching us. This was not enjoyable. We were now on solid ground but it seemed to go on forever and became increasingly steeper. Finally, about 2 hours into the descent we arrived at a point where we could start to make a line towards where the boat was located. With the descent largely behind us, we changed direction and headed towards a series of low ridges that we would cross before arriving at the lakes edge. After crossing a creek, we then started the last couple of kilometres. The terrain opened up a bit and we made great progress and finally after another 40 minutes we arrived at our boat! It was just the way I had left it. Tied up, cover on and well protected. We couldn’t contain our excitement. As we all arrived, we looked at each other and laughed. All completely black from the soot we looked an absolute mess. Peering back up at Stepped Hills we wondered at what we had just done. ‘That was a pretty crazy descent’ I exclaimed. With pats on the back and even a few hugs, we took a few minutes to contemplate the journey. Over the next 15 minutes we readied the boat and then started off under motor across the lake back to the cars. We took it very easy and 20 minutes later, after a very enjoyable cruise, we arrived at the boat ramp. With a beer or three cracked we said ‘cheers!’ and packed everything up. It was now late afternoon and around 8 hours since departing camp. We had decided to move on to Maydena for the evening to recuperate and have dinner at The Giant’s Table (a must dine at in Maydena!). We were all pretty chuffed with what we had just done and I’d have to say that this was one of the best longer walks I’ve done! Absolutely magnificent. Words or photos don’t do it justice but hopefully the gallery after the few photos below give you an idea! Thanks for reading!
Full Gallery of photos below! Stay tuned for the movie, coming soon!