Thursday, April 9, 2015

Great Expectations: Mount Anne Circuit, Part II

High Camp Memorial Hut:

Driving west on the Gordon River Road, lichened green signs point to various high points in the surrounding ranges, The Needles, Mount Mueller, Tim Shea, none of which were visible through the dense fog. We parked at Condominium Creek where a party of three twenty somethings were fussing around with packs and gear. In our usual alpine climbing mode, we were all packed and ready to go as soon as we arrived so with a quick "hello" we were off up the track. The track climbs 800 metres in 3.5 kilometres but it is an easy climb as this trail has been constructed (or at least worked on) not merely formed by the osmotic passage of many walkers, so there are steps and, although the track is running with water (as are most tracks in Tasmania), the water drains off a firm bed so walking is easy. 

We were just shy of two hours reaching High Camp Memorial Hut, a rather rustic stone building with a tiny sleeping loft and two windows looking out of the Western Arthur Range, although all we could see was fog. Ducking inside for a break to escape the light but insidious rain that had begun, we found the interior chilly and damp. A party of four, on the way down after an aborted attempt to climb Mount Anne as a day trip arrived. One member of the party had got very cold and was still shivering violently. Strangely, they did not seem to have waterproof pants which I assumed were standard wear in Tasmania's wet high country. 

There was lots of chatter as these folks were interested in where we had been, were going and also about living in a caravan and traveling all the time. It turns out that one fellow runs the post office in Natimuk where we had spent many weeks (months possibly, but I can't remember) camping when we were climbing at Mount Arapiles. 

Morning at Mount Arapiles, 
a warmer drier place 

After about half an hour, we figured we should keep moving so putting on warmer waterproof clothes we headed out just as the three twenty somethings arrived. They pulled a large spread of mostly zero calorie lunch food out of their packs. Tiny cherry tomatoes still in their bulky plastic packaging, alfalfa sprouts (also in bulky plastic packaging), and some other assorted condiments. In other circumstances I would call this a great lunch, but, when you are out walking in the mountains carrying zero calorie, nutrient light (for weight) food just does not make sense. 

Beyond the hut, the track deteriorates immediately and is bushy and bouldery. The rocks were slick with rain so we went carefully. After about 15 minutes, as the wind increased and began to blow streamers of rain across the ridge I began to wonder if camping at Shelf Camp, in our (now) somewhat leaky tent was really a good idea. 

 Sunrise on the way up Mount Eliza

Doug deferred to me, "It's your trip," and I decided unaccountably quickly - I am generally given to prolonged periods of indecision - to return to the hut and see how the weather progressed. If the weather didn't clear we would not be climbing Mount Anne and struggling up over huge boulders in a steady rain to a high alpine camp seemed pointless. At this stage in our outdoor careers we have no need to seek out uncomfortable positions, we have camped on high ridges in terrible storms enough times in the past to not relish the experience. 

Back at the cabin, I asked the twenty somethings who were just preparing to leave about the camping at Shelf Camp (the young man had done the trip before), "yes, it is exposed," he said, "no, there is no toilet," and finally, "there may be no water, you might have to carry it." This last struck me as completely ludicrous as the entire Southwest National Park is awash with water. You could gather a litre in less than sixty seconds just off the track. I could not help but think he thought me a useless, old fogey who needed a toilet to camp (actually, I was concerned about contamination of the water sources with so many people camping in a place with no established toilet facilities), and had no business on any track least of all one with the fierce reputation that the Mount Anne circuit has. Expectations.

 Lots Wife seen on the way up Mount Anne

Settling in for what might be a long afternoon, Doug and I made tea and put on virtually all our clothes, the damp air was very cold. If the weather cleared, we would continue on, otherwise, we would stay the night and see how the next day turned out. Within half an hour, two more thirty something women walkers arrived. They came streaming in, cold tendrils of air swirling around them dressed, improbably, in light cotton shorts and white barbeque shirts (as my friend Robin Tivy calls all casual wear). They too were bound for Shelf Camp, and, after a short break started out, only to return minutes later to add more layers of clothing. 

Back out again, they had not left the porch when a day walker came down the track. He had passed 11 people (in total) heading to Shelf Camp and the women began to get worried that they would be late arriving and there might be no where to camp. This might seem crazy to Canadian climbers and hikers as camping up in the alpine in Canada is generally easy. In fact, it's often hard to choose the very best campsite among the dozen merely good ones available. In Australia, however, the bush, even in the alpine, is dense and impenetrable. If there are no established camps where the vegetation has been cleared there can be quite literally not one place to pitch a tent. 

 Lonely Tarns sunrise,
Doug B. photo

The women came back in and, after some discussion decided to settle in for the evening. Doug and I were glad of company, we have so few other people to talk to generally, and were soon engaging the women in conversation. Both women were scientists and so very interesting to talk to, but, I found conversation quite difficult as one woman was extremely opinionated (a trait I recognise in myself) and no matter what the topic, she would talk over everyone else, even her own walking companion. Real conversation requires some discussion of ideas, and, the best conversations are often those where the parties do not agree but can still share viewpoints. Nothing kills a discussion more than emphatic declarations that brook no discourse, which is where most of the evenings talk seemed to end. Expectations.

The women had track notes (these are very popular in Australia) and read off the suggested times for the various sections of the walk. Two to three hours to Shelf Camp, four to six hours to Lonely Tarns. They were confident they could complete both sections of the walk in the short end times if not even quicker. There was lots of talk of getting up early, skipping breakfast and having it at Shelf Camp (not really a time saver if you have to unpack your pack to retrieve stove, fuel, food etc.), moving rapidly and easily completing the walk to Lonely Tarns in five to six hours. They offered to sleep downstairs so they did not wake us in the morning and looked at me strangely when I told them we were always up before dawn and were not really tired the day having been so easy anyway. Expectations.

Doug on the summit of Mount Anne

"Are you going to the very tippy top of Mount Anne?" one asked. When we replied that we hoped to, weather permitting, she looked at us dubiously. "There is a very scary traverse on a narrow ledge near the top, it's very difficult" she told us seriously. She had done the trip before but had not made the summit of Mount Anne. I could see her thinking, "surely these old fogies, with their pants hanging off their skinny frames can not be thinking of climbing Mount Anne." Expectations. 

I had trouble sleeping that night as I was not at all tired and the bench we were sleeping on felt hard to my increasingly lean frame. I listened to podcasts long into the night and watched a huge moon drop down and hang in the sky illuminating the little hut with cold silvery light. I went back and forth in my mind whether we should attempt the traverse - perhaps we had lost too much time camping early - merely try to summit Mount Anne from the hut, or, if the weather was bad simply turn around. Expectations.

 Blood Moon from High Camp Memorial Hut,
Doug B. photo

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