Date: 27th January 2019 – Summit:1528m
Due to large sections of Tasmania burning with uncontrolled bush fires, our Abels choices were limited. Many of the states reserves and national parks had been closed for safety reasons. Stacks Bluff sits at the southwestern tip of Ben Lomond and no track closures were planned for that area, so we decided a warm summer’s day hike might be in order. Tracey’s flash new SUV needed a good run in and a little test on off road terrain. The day before we had enjoyed the rock bands on offer at Red Hot Summer Tour and so it seemed fitting today that we enjoy a different sort of rock.
Distance: 9km return.
Time taken: Just under 3 hours return for us, however the Abels book states 3.25 hours one way.
Difficulty: Easy navigation, steep elevation immediately that levels out towards the summit, and lots of scree!
Type of track: Well marked with reflectors, cairns and pads.
Access from: Storys Creek Road. Considerable gravel and rough track driving.
The easiest ascent of Stacks Bluff is from the western end of Story’s Creek. When driving along Story’s Creek Road, Stacks Bluff rises ominously behind tree cover to your west. The weather was forecast for a very warm 24 degrees with unblemished skies above us, barely a cloud in sight. For the most part the road heading in is gravel but reasonably well maintained. At a certain point this changes to a rough 4WD track (which most people hike rather than drive) eventually reaching the start of the track proper.
When entering the now defunct town of Story’s Creek you will come upon an old abandoned school. Opposite the school a gravel road – with a homemade sign reading Stacks Bluff – can be taken. After a kilometre or so the road will fork and become a craggier and more complex gravel track to navigate. This was a great time to test the Mazda’s AWD capabilities as we continued slowly and carefully upwards for another 400m. Some may chose to walk this section due to the roughness of the track and the encroaching bush. We weren’t worried about a little bush pin-striping on the car and we knew that on top of this section there was another kilometer-plus of very steep road to hike, so any way we could shorten that, the better!
After taking the Mazda as far as she could go, we parked at the surprisingly spacious car park on the road towards Stacks Bluff track. It was time to hike the remainder of the road. A cairn marks the commencement of the road walk which took us about 15 minutes, with the road finishing very abruptly. This road section is definitely not driveable unless you have a proper 4WD and are an experienced driver! The section of road leading to the track proper is very steep but we could glimpse the day’s goal through the trees and it filled us with excitement.
The track proper is now marked by a post and a cairn which leads off to the left. The track enters the bush line and is well marked by reflective discs and cairns. The scrub is reasonably dense in some sections and as such, markers may take a few moments to spot. At this stage the elevation was gradually climbing and the walking was pleasant. The scrub was intermittently broken up with a few very minor scree fields which were a warm up for the gigantic scree field we would soon happen upon!
The wiry bush eventually gives way to a massive scree field. Although a very considerable area to cover, the boulders themselves are almost the perfect size – not too large, nor too small. The sun was shinning and the scree was dry underfoot so we were able to make short work of climbing it. The only thing that kept slowing us down was turning to look back to see the breathtaking views below us. We were both loving the fact that we had decided to wear our light weight trail running vests today instead of heavier packs. Our vests still contained everything we needed (water, food, first aid kit, PLB, clothing etc) but unlike a hiking pack they cling like a second skin and there is no lopsided swinging to deal with. It makes scree hopping easy.
Mid way up the dominating scree field the views really open up and a hidden water gem revealed itself to us, Tranquil Tarn. It was now in the high twenties in temperature and we briefly contemplated a visit to Tranquil Tarn on the return hike for a cooling swim! The scree, whilst very manageable in boulder size, is combined with rapid elevation increases as you progress further up towards the escarpment, and as such we were definitely feeling the heat by this stage!
As soon as we had finished climbing the large scree field, we stepped out onto the rim of the mountain. The elevation literally disappears and the track meanders flatly and easily across the escarpment. The well padded track was obvious but also marked with frequent cairns. A steep gully beside the eastern face of Denison Crag provides access to the summit plateau. This last little pinchy climb lead us to the highest point and we could spy the summit in the distance!
The summit is roomy and the views are breathtaking in every direction, particularly on a gorgeous summer’s day. Although we did get a stark reminder of how many fires were burning out of control across our state by the smell of smoke in the air and haze rising to the skies. After some refreshing fruit, soaking in the views and a few photos it was time to start our descent.
The return journey is much easier for the most part. Travelling back across the escarpment is easy as the pad is so obvious but it is worth noting there are also a lot of false leads and so careful attention needs to be paid so you don’t wander off track! I have been know to day-dream a little and chat too much, and a few times Ben had to clear his throat and say “Xing, back on the track!”. The wind had picked up a little whilst we were on the plateau and we had popped on some wind jackets to cross the escarpment due to the exposure.
The main scree field took some level of concentration on the way down due to the steepness of the rock. Some smaller rocks would roll out from under your feet on the return journey downwards and so our pace slowed a little. Halfway down the scree field though the rocks regained their pleasing size and we were like kids playing on a pile of rocks in the backyard, such was the fun. The imposing presence of such a solid wall of rock behind us was awe inspiring. We had sat upon that and looked over the world.
Soon enough we were off the scree, through the small sections of wiry forest and back on the gravel road that we had climbed earlier in the day. It was much more pleasant sauntering down the road than the upwards journey earlier on. Ben took the opportunity to trail run back to the car as he loves a little downhill running. He also had trail running shoes for the day, generally preferring them for shorter hikes especially when covering scree. I had my trusty hiking boots on so there was no running for me – OK well maybe a little when I was a kilometre from the car. It’ amazing how good hiking boots are to run in!