Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Eldons

15th - 24th January 2017

Eldon Peak
Eldon Crag
Eldon Bluff
Dome Hill
Castle Mountain
High Dome
Tramontane
Rocky Hill
Camp Hill
Pyramid Mountain
Goulds Sugarloaf
Mt Cuvier
Mt Manfred
Mt Byron

The Eldon Traverse stretches from Lake Burbury near Queenstown to the centre of the Cradle Reserve. The general route takes in a few surrounding ranges, but the whole area is usually described as 'The Eldons' and finishes near the northern reaches of Lake St Clair. It is some of Tasmania's premier off track walking, involving high alpine traverses, dense rainforest and even thicker scrub. The walk is not to be taken light heatedly and as such there are very few people I would have gone with. Nick, one of my best mates and a keen Abel companion is one of them. This is a big one; grab a cuppa... Ready?

Day 1
Nick and I stayed the previous night at the Mountain View Motel in Queenstown so we could have an early start, meeting 'Captain Brad', a young fella who would take us up Lake Burbury to the desired starting point. Brad had taken Shelly (a friend and fellow Abelist) up the lake a few years prior, so we knew he was a legend. Putting the boat in the lake was easy as pie and the trip to the northern end of the lake was calm and beautiful. Our eyes drifted to the goal of the day, Eldon Peak; still shrouded in cloud. By 8:30am our feet were on the ground, a sea eagle soared above, and we headed off for what we expected to be a long day. The first challenge was to cross the Eldon River, as Brad wasn't able to get too far up-river. After a short time of walking up the river we found a suitable shallow spot and dashed across with our boots dangling around our necks. We were then into rainforest. Gorgeous open walking greeted us for our first few kilometres as we headed for the foot of a broad ridge up Eldon Peak. It didn't take long before we started the up. We had 1200m of up to do. The rainforest stuck with us for a long while, with many great examples of Sassafrass and Tree Ferns growing intertwined. A few mandatory rest breaks along the way, but we made good time and by midday we were above the rainforest and into classic alpine scrub, Cutting Grass and Tea Tree. At one stage Nick spotted a baby Blue Tongue Lizard,neither of us had seen one before, and thus we were a bit startled! We kept pushing through the scrub and we eventually emerged into lower Scoparia, studded with scree. This eventually gave way to large boulder fields that took us all the way up to the summit, which we reached at 3:30pm. The summit only gave us a glimpse of a view towards the Tyndalls, but we didn't expect anything more than clag. After some summit time we headed east from the top to a large open area of tarns, Pineapple Grass and some of the biggest patches of Cushion Plants I've ever seen. We found somewhere to pitch the tents and had a foggy evening, playing cards and talking about the trip to come.

Cap'n Brad of the mighty 'Reaper'.

Zooming towards our mountain range.

The shale beds of the Eldon River.

Crossing the mighty beast.

Beautiful rainforest walking.

Not so beautiful scrub walking.

The scree on approach to the summit.

A lightning strike! Note the burnt patch of vegetation?

First Abel of the trip! 

Day 2
"You doin' the Eldon Traverse? Yeah... Big rocks; big holes." Sage advice I was told by someone once. How true were his words though...We started our 13 hour day in the fog at 7am and headed east along the crumbling ridge of the main Eldon Range. Boulders the size of vans, made all the more treacherous by the moist conditions made for very slow going. The pace picked up by late morning when things started to dry up as the cloud burnt off. We took it from knoll to knoll, and slowly but surly made ground as we headed for our desired destination near Eldon Crag. Mostly the day was up high, with one scrubby saddle later in the afternoon to contend with. We reached the area we were to spend the night at by 6:30pm and dropped packs before promptly heading to Eldon Crag. The trip out to the Abel took about 30 minutes each way and was well worth the last of the day's energy as the view was spectacular in the evening light and it would make our next day a bit shorter with it already done. We soaked up the vista towards the distant peaks and bluffs that we would later be heading to before getting back to our packs to set up camp around 8pm.

A foggy and still way to start the day.

The cloud burnt off though.

Eldon Peak remained shrouded.

Not a bad spot for lunch.

Looking towards Eldon Crag.

Nick loving the evening summit.

And a great sunset to top off day two.

Day 3
We set off early to a beautiful morning. First objective of the day: Eldon Bluff. Shortly after leaving , we dropped the packs on a saddle connecting the Bluff with the rest of the range and headed up the large boulder field to the flat topped Abel. The walk was swift and on top was quite windy, but very rewarding with a huge view. One of the main eye catchers was a long, broad ridge heading north to our next goal of the day, Dome Hill. After getting back to our packs we headed under the cliff line of the Bluff on a somewhat beaten pad through thick vegetation. It was warm and wearing all our scrub gear wasn't fun, but it did save some pain and time as we pushed through quickly and made it to the foot of Eldon Bluff for lunch. After some food we headed for Dome Hill. The walk out took a little longer than we anticipated as we encountered more scrub than we expected. Nearly two hours later we were sitting on top of Dome Hill, soaking in the remoteness of the place and delighting in the closeness of Mt Nereus. With dark clouds gathering we scooted back to the packs and then as swiftly as possible down to Lake Ewart. It was very scrubby, and the closer we got to the lake the swampier it became. We arrived at the lake with drizzle coming down after a bit over an hour of hard walking. We found a registration box at the lake, with only 7 parties logging in in the past 7 years. A reminder of the isolation we were in.

Getting to the saddle between Eldon Crag and Bluff.

Looking back on what we'd done the day before. Note Eldon Peak is out in the far right.

Looking north towards Dome Hill, Barn Bluff, and Cradle.

The huge cliffs on the summit of Eldon Bluff were amazing...

...Especially from bellow.

Heading to Dome Hill.

A fossil or two were found along the way.

Quite a far way from The Eldons.

Day 4
We tried to sign the rego book, but it was too wet and our pen wouldn't work on the paper. So we headed for the next ridge to take us toward High Dome with baited breath of the scrub to come. It was raining, so we were luckily armored up in full gear, and managed to push through with relative ease. Once on the the high ground we left our packs to commence a side trip to Castle Mountain, which was fully shrouded in cloud and rain. True peak bagging. The walk up was clagged in thick Scoparia and Tea Tree, but with dogged determination we made it to the summit by 10:30am in time for a clearing view from the top. After some summit time we went back to the packs and continued along the range, first passing over a scrubby knoll, then onto another saddle headed for yet another scrubby knoll. On the second knoll we found quite a good path to follow, which cut the time we expected to arrive at camp considerably. Tents were set up by 4:00pm and some chill out time was enjoyed in the beautiful location beneath High Dome.

Eldon Bluff towering above Lake Ewart.

Rusty rego box.

With very few people, although many names I know!

Castle Mountain is in that cloud...

How lucky was this! A view emerged!

Hot footing it to High Dome camp.

Our little tarn at camp.

And not a bad view from the tent.

Day 5
We headed off with daypacks for High Dome around 8:00am, delighting in the open walking to the base of the scree leading up to the first false summit of the Abel. Once on there it was another 15 minutes to the actual summit which we reached by 9:00am. A really pleasant mountain, and once again we experienced great views. One view was towards the next goal of the day, the notorious and elusive Tramontane. First we headed down the south-western side of High Dome to skirt below the third hump of the mountain and continued on a saddle to a high point where we then had to walk east for a few kilometres to the summit of Tramontane. Getting to that point was not too hard, but to Tramontane we experienced a combination of thick Scoparia scrub, clagged Snow Gum forest, and a surprising amount of Myrtle and Pandani forest. The walk to the summit took us 3 hours from the top of High Dome and was honestly easier than I had expected, whilst proving to still be hard however. We had lunch on Tramontane and then headed back the way we came in a similar time frame. By this point, we were very happy with our achievements of the trip so far. We spent the afternoon on Cloud 9.

A great start to the day.

The steep scree going up High Dome.

Looking across to High Dome, and the barely noticeable Tramontane.

Looking north from High Dome.

A huge fallen bolder off the back side of High Dome.

Towering above us.

Near the summit of Tramontane.

There it is! Very few people have been here before...

A beautiful Pandani in the forest heading back to camp.

Day 6
We had checked the weather while on High Dome the previous day and expected there to be rain coming, so we weren't surprised when we woke to very soggy conditions. But luckily it was on one of our shortest planned days, only wanting to move camp from the High Dome saddle around 5 kilometres south to Junction Hill (or Mediation Hill, depending on what side of the bed you get out of). We half expected there to be a good track through the forest, and after the initial bash down past Five Duck Tarn we found a cut route (the continuation of the well known Pigeon House Hill track). It was harder to follow in sections of open Buttongrass, but the walk only took us 5 hours. As we had left early in the day, we had lunch after camp was established and enjoyed reading to the sound of rain all afternoon.

Not a great start to the day.

The end of a wet day, damage done to these scrub pants. Deary me...

Day 7
The rain from the day before seemed to linger longer than we anticipated, but we still headed off for the two Abels of the day, Rocky Hill and Camp Hill. The track from Pigeon House Hill to where we were passes over Rocky Hill, so we kept following that and it wasn't long until we were on the top of that Abel, in persistent rain and with no view. We were in half a mind about continuing to Camp Hill, but thought that seeing how we were there we might as well knock it off. It was unpleasant walking through rain and thick scrub, requiring a good bit of navigation to find the small saddle connecting the two Abels. Very thick scrub bands around the base of the summit made for painfully slow going and we got pretty scratched up, achieving the summit a few hours after leaving Rocky Hill. We didn't stay very long on Camp Hill, as there was no view and we had no great desire to stand in the rain, so it was back to Rocky Hill for a late lunch, and then back to camp. We arrive at the tents later in the afternoon, just as the weather began to improve, at least granting us the possibility to dry our wet gear and look on towards the goals of the next day; Pyramid Mountain and Goulds Sugarloaf.

Heading out to Rocky Hill.

The small summit cairn of Rocky Hill.

This sums up the mood atop Camp Hill.

Creeping pine at camp. 

Dry EVERYTHING!

Day 8
Another very early morning for a day that proved to be a big one. The sunrise over the mountains we headed to was spectacular and as soon as Sol peeped her head above the horizon we knew we were in for a hot day. The first goal to reach was Pyramid Mountain, which was a matter of continuing east along the open ridge-line we'd camped on for the passed two nights. There were a few sections of thicker Scoparia, and a final push through dense vegetation near the top, but it only took a few hours of walking to reach the summit of our 10th Abel of the trip. Some time was spent up there enjoying the view and assessing the best approach to Goulds Sugarloaf. A broad ridge extends north from the summit, and we agreed that that was best reached as soon as possible. The next batch of hours was spent in various thickness of bush, including some delightful rainforest. After lunch in the shade we had to do our uphill push to get onto the aforementioned ridge. This was not enjoyable, but the terrain gods treated us with a surprise when we attained the top. 10/10 perfect, open, super low alpine meadow walking. YES! This was one of the high-lights of the passed few days, and in celebration we kicked off our scrub gear and gaiters and walked in euphoria towards Goulds Sugarloaf. At the foot of Little Sugarloaf we left our gear and headed to Goulds, only 1 kilometre away. More open walking leading to a beautiful summit helped to really polish off a big afternoon. The view was unbelievable, one of the best I've ever seen. Views from St Valentines Peak to Mt Anne. Ironstone Mountain to the Western Oceans. And everything in between. We lingered atop in the sun for a long while before heading back to the packs and towards Mt Cuvier. We had to pass over one last scrubby section of walking around Coal Hill, but found a suitable spot to spend the night in the shadow of Mt Cuvier, right at the doorstep of our next day.

Sun rising over the reserve.

A mint start to walking.

Pyramid Mountain almost under our feet.

Me looking towards High Dome.

The long open looking ridge of Goulds Sugarloaf.

Atop a Pyramid older than those of Egypt!

Sums up our feelings on that open ridge.

Smashing it out!

Goulds Sugarloaf.

My thoughts were of my Opa on here. He always wanted to come up this mountain.

Camping below Coal Hill.

Day 9
Nothing quite like a 13 hour, 3 Abel day. We set off at 6:30am for Mt Cuvier. A little time with our big packs on before we spend some considerable time with just daypacks. From the packs it was 15 minutes to the summit of Cuvier along a good path, views to Mt Manfred got me excited for heading out to that summit. We came off Cuvier on a scrubby chute and made a bee-line for the saddle to Manfred. Down to the saddle was good walking in medium Myrtle forest, but on the other side of the saddle was thick Fagus, Scoparia, and cliffs to contend with. Once at the base of Manfred we needed to sidle around the cliffs of the summit to find a good chute to climb up. I had visions of Hobbits walking up a staircase to Shelob's Lair with the steepness. 2 hours from Cuvier and we were atop my 100th Abel! The view was great, especially towards The Guardians and the Du Canes. Another few hours were spent getting back to the packs, in which time I lost my sunglasses (if you're heading in that area, keep an eye out)! After lunch in the company of around 1,000,000,000,000 ants, we headed off towards Mt Byron. The last uphill section of our 10 day mission was at hand! And it wasn't even that bad! Again some Myrtles in the lower sections of the mountain, then a steep but short lived scrub band before breaking out onto large boulders to the summit. Oh my golly gosh, 14 Abels in 9 days. Outrageous. We spent a good amount of time on Byron before heading down the cairned route towards Byron gap, where we walked towards the Overland track along the edge of Lake St Clair. Just before hitting the OLT we found a good spot in the rainforest to camp.

Early morning on a Pandani.

Mt Cuvier.

Heading up mountain in early morning is bliss.

Looking north from the summit.

On the way to Mt Manfred.

Thick scrub. Joy.

My 100th Abel!!

Our lunch spot on the Cuvier Shelf.

Looking at Mt Byron, the last uphill stretch of the trip.

And it wasn't too bad; great views and a breeze.

Our 14th Abel in 9 days. The euphoria was real.

This track marker on the Byron Gap track was getting undressed... HA!

Day 10
A sleep in was had as we were booked on the 1:00pm ferry from Narcissus and we only had an estimated walk of 1 hour to get there. After leaving our camp site we hit the Overland within 5 minutes and soon were hooning along on the boardwalk. The first soul we saw since fare-welling Brad over a week ago was Dave. Dave had done the Eldons in the 1980s' and was glad to hear of the place still being explored. When we got to the hut at Narcissus we brewed a massive coffee, had a swim, and probably overwhelmed everyone who turned up (including a Tas Walking Co. group - Both Nick and I guide for them) with our keenness to talk to anyone about anything. The ferry ride was good as always, and Nick's mum, Liz picked us up from the lake. The Hungry Wombat Cafe was about to get hit by some smelly and hungry bushwalkers.

Nick all in a blur getting packed.

Some beautiful rainforest where we camped.

WOAH! A PATH! GEEZ!

A few hours of hut chill out time was great.

Slowly getting back to civilisation.

Absolutely stoked. We did it!!

All in all I believe this walk went better than either Nick or I expected. We managed to achieve everything we wanted to and it once again gave me an appreciation for why I'm doing the Abels - to see some amazing places, and make memories with amazing people.

I would like to especially thank Nick's mum, Liz, for taking a day out to do a lap of Tassie to get us back to our car in Queenstown. You're a bloody champ!

57 left.

Peace,
Zane.