Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Great Expectations: Mount Anne Circuit, Part III

Mount Anne, The Notch, Lightening Ridge, Lonely Tarns

In the loft, the women were still sleeping when Doug and I got up in the dark, made breakfast and packed up. We were just finishing our breakfast coffee when they scrambled down the ladder, somewhat shame faced at us having woken them instead of the other way round. When Doug and I left the little hut, the gold light of dawn was just touching the Western Arthur Range and the valley below was an ocean of white cloud. "We'll see you when you pass us," Doug quipped as we left. The women smirked thinking that would be sooner than we might imagine. Expectations.

We scrambled back up the boulders we had started up the day before, still being careful as they were slickly wet. The track climbs another 250 metres in half a kilometre to the summit of Mount Eliza and much of the way is up large blocks of dolerite the size of small cars. To save time, we tried to follow the cairns assiduously rather than waste time finding the best route, but we still had to backtrack a few times to climb onto or off of particularly large boulders. 

Once on Mount Eliza, an open alpine plateau leads north to Mount Anne and we got our first glimpse of the talus slopes and stacked columns of Mount Anne. It would have been nice to linger on this plateau where sea green cushion plants surround tiny tarns that reflect the surrounding mountains and the oblique morning sun was casting golden shadows across the boiling valley cloud, but we were too concerned with the terrain we needed to cover that day to do more than snap a few pictures and keep walking. Expectations.

 Doug on the Mount Eliza plateau

Before you reach the track junction at the saddle where the route to Mount Anne splits off the circuit route, another boulder field must be crossed. We teetered warily across this one. A broken bone or even twisted ankle here would have serious consequences. From the saddle, we could see multi-coloured tents spread about a high flat platform at the Shelf Camp, and the ridge the circuit route traverses jagged as a dragons back above. "Slow travel" we said to each other. Expectations.

We left our packs at a large cairn and took with us our waterproof jackets (despite the clear skies we had no confidence the valley cloud would not rise up and rain) and cameras. The route to the summit is relatively well cairned, first up boulders to a bit of track over a subsidiary summit, then up more boulders and talus to the base of the dolerite columns. The twenty somethings from the day before were on their way back down, but they had not made the summit. The final steps up the dolerite columns had been too difficult and exposed for them. Expectations.

 A few moments only on top of Mount Anne,
Doug B. photo

The last section of the route weaves up steps interspersed with ledges and wraps around the mountain to traverse another slabby ledge where there is one final step up to the surprisingly flat topped summit. Rock climbers will find it neither difficult nor exposed (it is around YDS class four), but hikers will find it both, and, dripping with water the scrambling certainly warranted caution. Within an hour, we were crouched on the summit block. Our stay was all of three minutes long, as we felt we still had a long way to go. I have lost count of the number of mountains I have climbed and subsequently spent less than ten minutes on the summit before beginning to reverse the route. Expectations. 

We quickly reversed the route down to our packs. Near the track junction, we met a party of two, day walkers, one of whom asked "Is it worth it?" Doug and I were literally gob-smacked. I'm used to this kind of question from tourists huffing and puffing along a wide well maintained trail, but not from people who have just hiked up 1000 metres and scrambled across teetering stacks of slick boulders. Generally, if you have to ask, the answer is no. We mumbled something about scrambling up wet slippery rocks and got the reply that "things are better when they are wet." With that attitude you really can't go wrong in Tasmania but it did lead me to question the experience of the two walkers. Expectations. 

We snacked while we changed clothes and then sped off along a rough track down to Shelf Camp. I was surprised to see a number of tents still standing and people lounging about. The weather, I thought, was anything but stable, and I would be making good use of this time when it was neither clouded in nor rainy to move on. Expectations.

 Two walkers on Lightening Ridge above Lonely Tarns,
Doug B. photo

A maze of tracks lead out from Shelf Camp, and we had the misfortune to get on the wrong one which climbed high under the jagged ridge above while the cairned route was on the plateau below. We struggled along forced to scramble up and down ledges when the track disappeared then reappeared above or below us. There were several awkward manoeuvres and a lot of tenacious bush. Below us, we saw two people seeming to stroll along easily but we could not see that they were on a track and I dislike following others for fear they do not actually know where they are going. We stopped, pulled out our mobile phone to check the map and track notes (useless). I thought we should go down, Doug thought up as we were nearly on the ridge crest again, but, "it's your trip," he said, "just make a decision and lets go, I don't want to be benighted." Expectations. 

I chose down, and we thrashed through unpleasant scratchy bush down slick rock bands to a rough track on the plateau below. It's hard to remember exactly how the route progressed from this point. We scrambled up to the ridge proper numerous times, followed cairns across huge boulders on the ridge crest, some times backtracking when we were stuck on a particularly tall boulder to find a route we could climb down, descended steeply down the north side and followed beaten in tracks across surprisingly steep terrain before climbing back to the ridge proper again. 

After what seemed a long time, we turned a shallow buttress on the ridge, scrambled back up again, and were looking down into The Notch, the crux of the route. The Notch is a narrow gap between dolerite columns on the ridge crest and generally requires pack hauling to surmount, and, in some cases a belay. Looking down into The Notch we saw the party of twenty somethings just setting up to haul their packs up the five metre step. Another party of two were waiting and Doug and I quickly descended to the breezy Notch. 

 Looking down into The Notch,
Doug B. photo

It was obvious we would be here a little while so Doug and I put on another layer and had a quick snack. The old habits of alpine climbers, you eat when you have a chance, not necessarily when you want, linger long. We began to make silly jokes about the Hilary Step and "continuing with style" (you have to be either an Enormocast fan or an aficionado of The Eiger Sanction to appreciate the latter) but no-one else seemed to find anything to laugh at. A general suggestion was made to haul every ones pack at once rather than each separate party getting their individual haul ropes out, which the twenty something fellow kindly did. It speeded us all up, but undoubtedly slowed his party down. 

The climb out of The Notch is again, easy for a climber, but difficult for a walker, but everyone managed it (even with style). Now, however, we were stuck in a conga line of slow walkers struggling with the terrain which still requires scrambling and boulder hopping. We were, of course, eager to keep pressing on, a desire made more keen by the cloud that had now risen up from the valley to embrace us all in a wet fog. 

 Mount Eliza, Mount Anne, Lightening Ridge

At another step along the route, Doug and I managed to duck around everyone in front of us by climbing up a face instead of a corner. We literally stepped over the belay sling set up by the twenty something where there was now a bottleneck of seven people variously waiting for a belay or to have their pack hauled. We were surprised to see the two women with whom we had shared the cabin as they had almost two hours start on us (the time it had taken us to climb Mount Anne). As we dashed past, they seemed surprised that we had climbed Mount Anne. Expectations. 

There is a 1262 metre high point at the north end of the serrated Lightening Ridge, and here the route begins a steep descent down boulders, ledges, and steps to a thickly vegetated saddle. The track was fairly well defined here and the benefit of such a steep track became evident in the speed with which we were able to descend. Once at the saddle, the track plunges into dense forest of pandani and myrtle and it is again a steep and slippery descent, but the many trees encroaching on the track make useful hand holds. Down near 1000 metres, the track emerges onto a minor ridge between two tarns in low but wet vegetation. We had a fabulous view back up to Lightening Ridge and were astonished at how easy the ridge was to traverse given its saw-toothed appearance. Expectations.

 The ridge the route traverses,
Doug B. photo

Our track notes had mentioned "many good campsites" but, despite walking all the way to where the track begins to climb again, we could not find any campsites that were not quite marginal. The vegetation while low is hugely hummocky and water seeps out with every step. At the last possible place where we could camp with water available, we found a semi-level site right by an unnamed lake and set up camp. Almost two hours later, the twenty somethings wandered by looking for a campsite and I could swear they looked at us with more respect than before. It had taken us about 3.5 hours to walk from Shelf Camp to Lonely Tarns. We had covered the most distance, done the most elevation gain, and passed every other party on the route, even those who had a couple of hours start on us. Expectations. 

Before setting up camp we debated simply having a drink and snack before walking out. It was, after all, only about 4.30 pm, and we estimated we could walk the remaining distance (we underestimated the distance by two kilometres) in 2.5 hours, or perhaps three at the most. In the end, we decided it would be silly to end the trip walking out in the dark when we might be able to beat the next days forecast rain if we started early. Expectations. 

Part Four. 

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