Date: 1st September 2019 – Summit: 1140m
As you wander along the well marked Penguin to Cradle (PCT) trail towards Mt Beecroft, enjoyment of the open and gently undulating hike is complimented by frequent glimpses in the distance of some of Tasmania’s iconic mountains. If you are as lucky as we were the day we headed to Mt Beecroft, you might be treated to views of a snow capped Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff as you roam the button grass ridges and valleys. Pure bliss.
Distance: Approx. 12km out-and-back.
Time taken: About 4.5 hrs, including numerous short stops for clothing changes and photos.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Button grass makes the hiking slightly more taxing but the elevation gain is gradual until the final 700m.
Type of track: Fully marked with poles along the Penguin to Cradle Trail (PCT) and then new pole markers all the way from the PCT to the summit. Note: In poor weather visibility of the poles would be limited so back up navigation is required.
Access from: Belvoir Road, 10km west of the junction of Belvoir Road and Cradle Mountain Road.
We set out around 5:30am from Launceston for Cradle Mountain National Park knowing we had a 1.5-2 hour drive ahead of us. Our loose plan for the day was to summit Mt Beecroft, and then time and weather permitting a summit of Mt Campbell. After all, what is better than bagging one Abel in a day? Bagging two of course! Whilst both these Abels are relatively close to each other (a mere 20 minute drive between car parks) we were aware of the ominous weather forecast and the shorter daylight window given its still Winter. Ben and I had two of our hiking buddies joining us for this adventure, Haydyn and Natty. We had decided that we would head to Mt Beecroft first as Mt Campbell can literally be climbed in an afternoon after work during Summer.
After stopping at E.T.C Cafe for a coffee traveller we continued on towards Sheffield. The reward for our start at such an unsocial hour was seeing Mt. Roland bathed in morning sunlight and mist. Mt Roland is one of Ben’s favorite mountains and one of Haydyn’s least favorite. Anyone who has ever completed the Triple Top Mountain Run, as the four of us have, has a love hate relationship with Mt Roland. A quick snap out the car window of Roland in all her glory and our journey continued.
The start of the days hike to Mt Beecroft begins at the highest point of Belvoir Road which is about 10km past the turnoff to Cradle Mountain Road. We wouldn’t exactly call it a car park but more a space where you can park adjacent to the main road! The car space is just past the scenic look out on the opposite side of the highway. Immediately off to the left of the car space locate some stone steps which will lead you up to the PCT sign. Given our last few hikes had been almost completely off track we were looking forward to a well padded out and obvious route.
With recent rain events and snow melting around the cradle area we were prepared for more than a little mud! This section of the PCT trail follows increasingly unkempt button grass ridges which are notorious for becoming boggy quagmires in winter. Natty was leading the way and a few too many giggles were had at her expense as she stepped onto a muddy spot only to discover it was actually a black hole of mud waiting to swallow her up, or at the very least make her slip slide around. Her shiny brand new boots were welcomed into the real world after just a few steps on the trail.
On cresting the first of numerous but gently undulating ridge lines we stopped and paused to inhale and appreciate the spectacular views of a snow capped Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff off to our East. Each time we crested a small ridge the track would dry out marginally, only to then become shallow water courses once more as the track descended. This section of the PCT winds across shallow ridges, down gullies and into open expanses of low lying scrub and button grass. At this point in time the weather gods were playing nice, however the section of PCT to Mt Beecroft is across almost completely exposed terrain and we were all conscious that rain was forecast for the latter part of the day.
The Abels book describes the ascent of Mt Beecroft as medium in difficulty. The four of us agree that other than a short pinchy climb to the summit plateau the hike is actually relatively easy. It is well marked via poles and the track pad is obvious. The soggy and muddy button grass adds a level of difficulty in winter but overall this is not a strenuous hike. On a clear day like today navigation was easy but in bad weather navigation would be tough. We had bought along with us our normal safety back ups of a Garmin InReach GPS and Tracey had the route marked out on map with compass bearings. Haydyn was also tracking our route via his Garmin watch.
With the weather threatening to become unfavorable and the surroundings being considerably exposed it was time to pop on our wet weather jackets. Just a few drops of rain here or there that would then disappear again. In another 30 minutes or so we would stop and pop on our full wet weathers for protection mostly from wind and a little light rain. Mist was settling in the direction of Mt Beecroft but we were optimistic it might lift in time for the summit ascent.
Still following the pole line we were nearing the junction that would branch off to Mt Beecroft from the main PCT track. When the PCT turns almost due east that is the indicator to step off the track. The Abels book mentions that the junction is unmarked but is approximately 700m east of the summit and easily recognised by a moraine like ridge heading westerly. The track has obviously been upgraded since the last print of the Abels book as the junction now contains a small white PCT sign and a poled route all the way to the summit of Mt Beecroft! It is important to note that the poles are not marked with reflective markers and so in inclement weather would be hard to locate. Always have a secondary navigation plan.
According to Haydens watch, Tracey’s map and Bens GPS we were about 500m from the track change. We started to pay more attention to our surrounds as we were still under the belief at this stage that it was not an obvious junction. No need to have worried about missing it (well in clear weather like today anyway) as the lovely white PCT trail sign and poles led us straight to the summit. Thank you very much Parks, much appreciated!
If one was to miss the PCT sign and the veering east of the trail as well as the new pole markers then you can still without difficulty locate the route to the summit by looking for the moraine-like ridge on the west that leads directly to the foot of a short, sharp climb. A moraine ridge is a ridge that runs down the center of a valley floor. It forms when two glaciers meet and the debris on the edges of the adjacent valley sides join and are carried on top of the enlarged glacier. It creates a long and narrow ridge. The moraine ridge west of the PCT that leads to the foot of Mt Beecroft is stunning. None of the photos we took do it justice. Walking along it you get a sense of the gargantuan forces that shaped our planet long ago.
After traversing the moraine-like ridge the trail leads you to the northern base of Mt Beecroft. As we were wandering along and enjoying the views from the ridge we had all briefly contemplated leaving the trail for a straight up the middle summit of the mountain. From our vantage point on the ridge the pole marked track appeared to be the lengthier route. However, upon closer inspection we were all happy we had not attempted an off track summit as the elevation was so steep that short of being on the trail one might not get up the pinchy climb without encountering major difficulty!
This brief but pinchy climb certainly gets the heart rate up but taking your time to enjoy the opening views allows for the heart rate to drop. The wind had increased markedly as we climbed towards the summit plateau. As had the cold and wet. The mist was rolling in and covering our view further up the track and so we were not incredibly hopeful that we would see anything at all by the time we summitted!
The first pinchy climb over Tracey took shelter behind a rocky outcrop and added some more warm layers. We were now only a few hundred meters from the summit trig but the mist had well and truly descended. Haydyn was leading at this stage and the pole markers were getting increasingly hard to see. He had briefly spied the trig point only to have it completely obscured in mist again almost immediately. Now with no accurate visible bearing it was time to rely on our compass bearing to lead us in the general direction of the summit. And then… the weather lifted and we could once again see pole markers and even better – we could see the trig in the not too far distance.
With the mist rolling away, the trig in sight and the wind gone it was a race to the summit. The trig sits high on a mound of shattered sandstone blocks that were a little slippery this time of year but still manageable. This close to the summit and still no views but the great thing about Tasmania is you don’t have to wait long for the weather to change, sometimes a few minutes is all you need!
And then for a few precious moments the fog cleared and we were rewarded with views of deep valleys, distant mountains and breathtaking beauty before beginning our journey home.
Our initial descent of the summit was in clear skies and allowed us to digest some of the views we had failed to see on the foggy ascent. In the picture above far in the distance you can just glimpse the flooded Vale River which is a good indication of the direction and distance we had traveled from our car. A little over 6km from the car to the summit in approx 2 hours. During the drier summer months this could easily be completed in under two hours although we all conceded that whilst the walking would be easier in Summer the extensive button grass plains would be a haven for snakes to hide!
Returning to our starting point a little over 4 hours later the car was a welcoming site as by now we were utterly drenched! A fresh change of clothes, a hot cup of coffee and seat warmers cemented our decision that Mt Campbell would wait for another day as we were all a little too snug and cosy to head back out into the wet winter afternoon.