Button Grass and Bogs
We expected a heavy dew and wet tent in the morning from a cold night camped close by the tarn, but, when we got up before dawn, the tent was relatively dry. We ate, drank our usual litre of coffee, packed up, and were climbing back up to Lightening Ridge on a wet track by 8 am. The tents of the other walkers were scattered about the many small lakes in this area and we wondered how early other parties would start walking.
It was a beautiful morning on Lightening Ridge with the rising sun casting long golden shadows. At this south end, Lightening Bridge is broad and covered with heath and spongy alpine vegetation. At the very southern end, Mount Sarah Jane rises 300 metres above another small unnamed tarn. The track descends into prickly scrub and I realized how scratched my legs were from the day before as we pushed through. We lost the track as it climbed out of thick scrub to the open spongy meadow below Mount Sarah Jane, but, soon found it again and walked along until we were at a small gap on the south end of Mount Sarah Jane where we could look 600 metres down to elongated Lake Judd and the massive Lake Pedder.
We were two hours to this point and stopped for a short break. Below us we could see the great button grass plains through which the Anne River runs and we thought how good it was that there would be a decent track (so we thought) across this flood plain which would otherwise be desperate to walk. Expectations.
Mount Sarah Jane
Any track that descends 600 metres in just over 1.5 kilometres is bound to be painful and this one was no exception. Again, the track has never been cut or constructed, merely walked in by the passage of many hikers, and, as we descended the vegetation on each side of the track got denser and we got knocked about from side to side like balls in an old pin-ball machine. The track was running with water which was not a huge problem on the rocky ground but as we got lower the rock base gave way to mud, large spreading mud puddles through which we slipped and slid trying to stay on our feet.
Where the track runs close by the Anne River, we lost it again as it veered away from the river through dense mats of stringy and straggly trees. We walked south over squelching button grass until we found it again but walking on the button grass was almost easier than walking on the track. I'd be hard pressed to say whether the track was a stream, a river, a mud bog or all three. In places, the water was ankle deep and the base firm enough to walk on, in others, there were knee deep sections, and yet others were just long stretches of sucking mud. We soon came to distinguish those sections through which you should not attempt to walk lest you be sucked in to your hips. These had a slurry like appearance and, if you happened to step in one by accident and went up to your knee, you would almost over-balance and fall flat on your face or back as you tried to pull your leg out. The whole experience was strangely reminiscent of skiing on facetted snow in the Rockies.
On the track down to the Button Grass plains
Time passed, and soon we had been walking three hours, then four, then five. We had some vague recollection of our track notes saying something about the "maintained Lake Judd trail" and kept hoping the walking would improve. At around the five hour mark we finally strolled onto some overgrown boardwalk and, for about 750 metres we had a decent trail along which we could stretch out our stride for the first time in three days. This did not last, however, and once we were across the suspension bridge over the Anne River all track work evaporated and we were back to mud bog walking. From a small rise above the Anne River, we finally saw the road, still almost two kilometres distant, but now easily within reach. Six hours after starting this "easy walk out" we finally paced out onto the road. Expectations.
This is when we got super lucky and were glad we had pressed on without any breaks as a group of hikers who had walked into Lake Judd were just preparing to leave and gave Doug a lift the nine kilometres along the road to Condominium Creek. I boiled water for tea while Doug retrieved the vehicles, and, half an hour after we started driving the rain began. Expectations.