Wilson and I pretty much could not participate in any adventure races and decide to settle for a rogaine in Tasmania. Not that we are complaining – since we really enjoy bushwalking too! The best part is we can extend the trip and carry on with more awesome adventures on this spectacular island.
We knew we wanted to hit the Southwest National Park and were looking it up for some challenging hikes. The South Coast Track, Frenchman’s Cap, Mt Anne, and even the Overland Track and the Walls of Jerusalem did surface as possibilities, but something just did not feel quite right. I then came across the Western Arthur Range on Google Images and was intrigued – and it felt like THE hike we been looking for. I quickly sent some links to Wilson, who got as excited as I did.
Varying accounts about the Western Arthurs circulate on blog pages, and it is hard to determine ‘what level of hiking experience’ we would categorize ourselves as. The Arthur Range is not covered in great detail in the Parks Tasmania website, so we were not 100% sure of we would be committing ourselves to. Some accounts that we read online made the trek sound really doable, and then we also saw (more than once) the precaution: ‘do not attempt the Arthurs if its your first time hiking in this region’ did scare me a little. Even till the last day of the hike, we weren’t sure if we would make it within the ambitious 60 hour self-imposed time limit. This 46.3km traverse via Moraine K is really hard to relate to until you have experienced it for yourself.
One thing for sure – there are endless crags to ascend/descend: I had to work on both my leg stability and upper body strength. As much as Altitude Gym’s opening hours were hard to fit into my work schedule, I tried my best to be there once a week. I did much functional training to prepare for the trip since I have the base endurance already. On top of this, I kept my yoga regime too. The training did pay off in the harsh terrain even with the lack of mileage/hours on my feet prior to the trip.
Once we were in Tassie, the wind was going a little crazy: up to 50km/h on the lower altitudes! The weather forecast showed double cold fronts back-to-back followed by a warm front during our attempt window. The shop staff at Paddy Pallin – where we bought the topo map of the Arthurs – told us that a warm front is extremely rare in Tassie, and it meant more rain will be coming. Learning from our miserable experience on our Tongariro traverse more than a year ago, we knew that rain and a high wind chill factor in an alpine environment is a deadly combo. We re-strategized and postponed the hiking trip, which meant one less day of mountain bike riding in Derby!
The sun hung high during the supposedly ‘rest days’ but it was still windy. The moment we drove towards Scott’s Peak Dam (the start and end point of our traverse), clouds started to move in and we weren’t able to see how beautiful the landscape was. We didn’t see the Sun till we finished the hike – weather forecasts don’t work in this part of the country.
The usual breakdown of the traverse is as follows:
1. Scott’s Peak to Lake Cygnus (15.5km, 7 hours)
2. Lake Cygnus to Lake Oberon (4.2km, 5 hours)
3. Lake Oberon to High Moor (4.3km, 6 hours)
4. High Moor to Haven Lake (3.8km, 6 hours)
5. Haven Lake to Seven Mile Creek via Moraine K (4.5km, 4 hours)
6. Seven Mile Creek to Scott’s Peak (14km, 7 hours)
We decided that we could possibly do two sections in a day and that will take us 3 days and 2 nights. However, we planned to pack 4 days of meals just in case we were unable to crack 3 days. We packed in 4 freeze-dried meal packs and enough nuts/bars/sports nutrition for 3 days. We did add in some luxurious stuff like cheese, crackers and cous cous for a sumptuous Day 1.
Day 1 went smoothly and we hit Lake Oberon after 9 hours in the rain with 10m visibility. Such a pity we missed the awesome views around Lake Cygnus and Lake Oberon. The descent into Lake Oberon campsite was pretty crazy, I never knew I could go down a gully with a 90% gradient, without ropes. We heard from fellow hikers that there will be more of such crazy stuff all the way to Haven Lake. Despite making a fairly good time on Day 1, we know we still have to push hard on Day 2 – hoping to make it to Lake Vesta (halfway down Moraine K), or face a long, drawn-out battle to make up the distance on Day 3.
We were well-fed and had a good rest to end Day 1. Lake Oberon campsite is surrounded by big patches of bogs and our feet were wet even before commencing Day 2. It was drizzling but the wind was mild. More of the crazy climbs and descents up and down those crags but we were progressing really well. We reached High Moor in about 4 hours. High Moor was really exposed and we kept moving to keep ourselves warm.
The section of the range known as the Beggary Bumps took a toll on us. I think we got really slow after we went up a wrong crag that saw us ‘cliffed out’ and overlooking a suicidal drop. I was conserving my food intake as I was worried I might need some for Day 4. We changed our plan and decided to hit Haven Lake for the night. Forget about Vesta – we would be too smashed to move at the pace required to attain it. So the 3.8km to Lake Haven took us nearly 6 hours. At the end of Day 2, I was thankful Wilson had been such a solid navigator because there was pretty much no trail to follow. Furthermore, we were using a 1:100000 map with extremely poor visibility through most of the day.
The dinner left me hungry after the hard day’s toil. I forced myself to sleep and recover for Day 3. The sleep was painfully cold, the wind was howling like crazy at the highly-exposed – and ironically named – Haven Lake campsite. I made a mistake by not packing an insulated pair of pants for sleeping. I ended up wrapping my legs with my Icebreaker merino top and really, really looked forward to daybreak. We have left our hiking clothes outside the tent but were mentally too weak to get out to ensure they would not be blown away.
In the morning, Wilson would always be first out of his sleeping bag. He would then open the tent and start boiling water for some hot Milo. The steam and hot drink usually warms me up – or else I do not know whether I would ever be convinced to get out of my sleeping bag. The packing would then begin and the donning of wet clothes would send us jumping around – a scene we got really used to but still make us laugh every single time.
We were progressing faster compared to Day 2. Knowing that we had big mileage to cover in the marshy lowland, we decided to push really hard on the descent. We did really well technically and hit Seven Mile Creek Junction before lunch despite some hiccups locating the track in the thick forest/bush. We decided to hike a little longer before our sumptuous lunch break of cheese and salami.
When we came out of the forest, the Sun reappeared as the clouds parted, and it was the first time we enjoyed a good view of the Arthur Range – standing magnificently on our left. It felt surreal that we were just up there, traversing those crags over the past two days.
The sun dried up most of the trail, but the semi-bogs still made it really hard to travel fast. Despite knowing we were 15km away from base camp, we were not sure if we could make it back before sun set. Not making it back to Scotts Peak Dam would mean another night of reduced rations, so we were quite determined to keep our pace. Indeed we got to Junction Creek in 2.5hr – not too bad given how unconditioned my feet were and that we just did a 24hr rogaine a week ago. I could imagine the hate my feet have towards me.
We were that close to completing the circuit when my right foot started acting up. Perhaps knowing that the hardest part of the hike was over, my Achilles tendon just gave way and every single step brought a stab of pain. The last time this happened was during the Australian 24hr rogaine champs in 2014. I was secretly proud that it only surfaced after a 24hr rogaine and 3 days of treacherous walking conditions this time: good to know my functional training did pay off.
The last 3 hours of the hike was excruciating for me – taking painful steps all the way back to our car. We met the shoe-washing bay that marked the start and end of our hike! It was as anti-climax as an adventure race finish. No cheers, no shower, simply back to pitching our tent for the night. At least we got to start a fire and ate all the rations we had in the car.
We spent the night by the fire, marveling at how we traversed the Western Arthur Range under 60 hours. We now share an experience that lives on in our memories and our story-telling that only we, perhaps selfishly, can fully relate to. We give thanks to the land that has given us such an extraordinary memory to keep.
> Shoes – Inov-8 Race Ultra
> Gaiter – Inov-8 Ultra
> Socks – Icebreaker Mid Weight hiking socks (Him) and Sealskin Mid Weight (Her)
> Pant – Macpac Nylon Pants (Him)
> Top – Icebreaker 200 and GT150
> Midlayer – Icebreaker Hoodie
> Goretex – Golite Ashdown Goretex Pro-Shell (Him) and Bikegore Active (Her)
> Gloves – Icebreaker Multisports and Montbell Waterproof
> Beanie – Icebreaker
> Pyjamas – Icebreaker 260 Top, Icebreaker 200 Bottom, Icebreaker Recovery Socks and Icebreaker Merino Loft
> Altimeter/Watch – Casio Protrek PRG-250 (primary) and Garmin Fenix 3 (alternate)
> Sleeping Bag – Montbell Down Hugger (Him) and Mont (Her)
> Tent – MSR Nook 2-person tent
> Headlamp – Black Diamond Revolt and Storm
> Stove – MSR Reactor
> Utensil – Snowpeak Titanium Spork, Titanium Cup 300ml & 800ml
> Hydration Bladder – Hydropak 2L & Camelbak 3L
> Food – Backcountry Cuisine and Outdoor Gourmet Company (Highly recommended!!!)
> Compass – Moscow Wrist Compass
> Map – Old River 1:100 000, 1997 edition 5
> Backpack – Macpac AMP40