Date: 24th August 2019 – Summit: 1210m+
So many of the Abels Mountains have long been held in esteem for their natural beauty, the challenge of their climb, and sought out by keen and casual bushwalkers alike – Abel status is but a mere formality. For a small selection of otherwise poorly known peaks however, inclusion on Bill’s list may well be the only reason anyone seeks them out. This is the story of one of those mountains…
Distance: 20.8km (a more direct out-and-back route would be well under 15km)
Time taken: 10 hrs total, about 6 hrs were moving.
Difficulty: Pretty challenging… tracked and untracked late-winter marshes and thick alpine scrub with plenty of snow-covered rock and a bit of scree thrown in for good measure.
Type of track: Some rough and mostly waterlogged 4WD tracks aside, the route is entirely off-track.
Access from: Little Lake, off Gunns Marsh Road (access from Poatina Road just north of the Arthur’s Lake turn off).
It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – hiking in elevated, exposed areas in winter in Tasmania is serious business – especially so in snow. Weather conditions can and often do change quickly, so be prepared. Carry the appropriate gear including a PLB or Satellite Communicator, know your route, be realistic about your abilities to navigate and cover the terrain and don’t be afraid to turn back if the weather turns sour. The mountain will always be there tomorrow!
The awkwardly named Parson and Clerk Mountain sits on the far eastern edge of the Great Western Tiers, directly opposite the freestanding Millers Bluff we’d climbed some weeks prior. The Abels had described the typical route to the summit – from a forestry access route to the south-east – as “hard” and mostly off track through scrubby woodland and exposed rock, with a “quite tedious” final ascent to the peak. Hardly compelling!
Suffice to say, when we became aware that the Launceston Walking Club (LWC) was undertaking a day hike along a less-vertically intense alternate route access from the west, we jumped at the chance to tag along. Tasmania was still in the grips of winter weather, with recent snow covering parts of the Central Plateau, so there was appeal in ‘safety in numbers’, especially with an essentially off-track route to a rarely summited peak..
LWC provide bus transport for many of their trips, which greatly helps with the logistics of getting to some of the more obscure trailheads around the state – as was the case with our intended route. At 7am sharp, 14 keen walkers departed the meeting point at Newstead College and headed south through Cressy and Poatina and up onto the eastern edge of the snow-capped Great Western Tiers. Recent snowfalls in the highlands had risked Poatina Road being closed for our trip, but fortunately the road itself had been cleared at some point, with the remaining snow pushed safely to the edges.
Our starting point at Little Lake is accessed via Gunns Marsh Rd, an unsealed and at times quite rough track that skirts the northern edge of Arthur’s Lake following HT power lines out to Gunns Lake and eventually the turn off to Little Lake itself. Note that this road is gated off during the winter months, as parts are inundated from the lake being in flood; it had recently been opened and some sections of road still a several inches of water across them, along with all the snow. It should be mentioned that Little Lake itself is approximately 18km off the highway, quite some distance to cover at a safe 30-40kmh. It had taken nearly two hours of driving by the time we reached our starting point at 9am – a bit later than our usual preference on short winter days, but I suppose not everyone is a glutton for 5am starts! On the plus side, the sun was out and doing its best against a partially-clouded sky to offer a little warmth, and the wind was gentle enough.
From the northern edge of Little Lake, the route to Parson and Clerk Mtn. bears east-south-east, utilising a rough and very saturated 4WD track through a series of clear marshland areas along Poachers Creek for approximately three-quarters of the route to avoid unnecessary bush-bashing.
Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication about 2km into the walk, we ended accidentally crossing Poacher’s Creek, resulting in the party accidentally heading south-west along the shore of Little Lake for another 1.5km or so until the error was realised. Lesson learnt – always be responsible for your own navigation, even when walking in a group.
Realising the error, the group reset its bearing north-east, snaking our way through a series of open, lightly snow-covered and rather pretty grassed fields to rejoin our intended route further north. The first sections of bush-bashing also began; fortunately these weren’t terribly dense and the going quite easy.
At this point though we realised one of our group wasn’t finding the going quite so easy, only to discover his boot’s sole had started to come away from the boot itself, and was snagging itself on every branch and low lying shrub the group was passing over. Fortunately a couple of our fellow walkers had gaffa and medical tape on them to help refix the sole in place. A good reminder of not only the importance to carefully check over your hiking gear before each trip for signs of wear or damage, but also the value of keeping a basic repair kit at hand for on-the-trail fixes. Things can and will go wrong – usually when you least want them too!
We eventually came out onto another expansive and open area, somewhat marshy and covered in frozen puddles of water. Our next target was another open plain – known as ‘Flash Charlies Marsh’ – which was situated about a kilometre directly east, and would put us within shooting distance of the summit. Before it was reached, however, we would have to negotiate the thick scrub around a knoll which lies to the north-west of the recognised highest summit.
The initial plan was to continue a bit further north along the marsh to skirt as much of the thick vegetation as possible before trekking south through where – based on aerial photos – the forested section was shortest and less dense.
Alas, the navigation gods were again not on our side, and we ended up missing our turn point and passing the knoll on its eastern flank, resulting what was – with the benefit of hindsight – a longer-than-ideal route through the scrub. This definitely was a tough bit of forest and rocky scrub to push through, and we were definitely happy to finally come out onto Flash Charlie’s Marsh and see the actual summit for the first time.
We stopped for a quick lunch and to assess our options. It had taken rather longer than anticipated to get this far, and with it now nearing 2pm and one of our party struggling in terms of pace due to the previously mentioned boot issue, we were facing the very real possibility not making it back to the bus before dark. As is responsible to do, the question of whether or not to push on to the summit was raised – could we afford to burn up to another hour before making tracks back? Unsurprisingly, many of us were keen to bag the summit regardless; we had gone this far, and I think secretly most were feeling no desire to come back again any time soon! Certainly Tracey and I were feeling that way 😉
Adding fuel to the fire, a couple of walkers (including our wonderful walk coordinator/leader) had done the walk last year from the more typical southern route and reached an incorrectly cairned high point slightly to the south-east of the true high point, believing it was the summit. Later investigation revealed that it while both points show 1210m contours on LISTMap, the more southern point is actually incorrect and is slightly lower at 1208m. Needless to say they were more than keen to right a wrong and duly bag the correct summit.
Eventually it was decided that about half of us would push quickly and decisively for the summit, while those not feeling up to it would stay put. The mist had lifted just enough to give us a clear visual to the summit, and it was just a matter of finding the easiest path up, which in sections was definitely challenging, with plenty of boulder scrambling as the final metres of elevation were gained and the sizeable summit cairn was reached.
Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the weather limited the reputedly quite impressive views from the highest point, so after a few quick photos we wasted no time getting back down to the others so we could commence the return trip. Ultimately we covered the 900m or so to the summit and back within an hour.
With the group back together we wasted no time forging a more direct path west to the edge of Flash Charlie’s Marsh and pushing down through the forest to the north-eastern edge of Paddy’s Creek’s marshes. This scrub was still thick but with the help of gravity – and maybe a strong sense that daylight hours were fast running out – we popped out the other side fairly quickly, picking up what appeared to be the remnants of an old 4WD track not far from where we’d passed by on the way in. Anyone considering doing Parson and Clerk Mtn. from Little Lake could use this track as a reference point to make their way up onto Flash Charlie’s.
Back on the lower marshes alongside Paddy’s Creek was simply a matter of following the 4WD tracks back towards Little Lake and the bus. By now it was really starting to darken and – just to cap off a tough day in the office – the rain had properly set in too.
Unfortunately by this stage the gentleman with the bad boot was really starting to suffer, so it was a slower-than-typical walk for the last 5km as we kept him upright and moving in the dark and rain. While still flooded in many sections, the marshes were mostly shallow save for a few deep drains and creeks that required extra care to negotiate at night.
Slowly but surely, we were all quite relieved to finally make it back to the bus, all souls accounted for, a bit before 8pm, after 10 hours on the go and 21km-odd covered. Rather longer and further than expected, but glad nonetheless to have bagged this rarely-mentioned Abel. It is undoubtedly one of the more challenging peaks to reach, particularly in winter, though the approach from Little Lake is definitely saves much of the continual climbing and bush bashing involved with the southern approach, just make sure your navigation is on-point to keep the route as direct as possible.
That said, we’re already discussing the potential for alternate routes to revisit the peak in better weather this summer… stay tuned… 😉