This area of the Western Lakes – known as the Nineteen Lagoons – is where my love of bushwalking and the Great Outdoors in general was reaffirmed a dozen years ago, where many summer trips out to the Julian Lakes (north of Lake Augusta) had been spent fly fishing in the innumerable crystal clear waters and tarns that litter the starkly-beautiful alpine landscape. It was at First Lagoon (to the south of Lake Augusta) where I got my first taste of hiking in winter snow… ironically in late November, such are the varieties of Tasmanian weather!
Date: 27th October 2019 – Summit: 1394m
Distance: 16.7km return.
Time taken: About 7 hrs total return.
Difficulty: Moderate. Due to the mostly open heath and the elevated starting point, the going is fairly easy. Regardless, the route described consists of several kilometres of untracked and very exposed alpine walking at 1200-1300m elevation, so careful navigation and preparedness for Central Highlands weather is well recommended at any time of year.
Type of track: Untracked alpine heath/scrub and sections of scree.
Access from: Lake Augusta, near Thousand Lakes Lodge (formerly Bernacchi).
While the summit of the Abel known as Wild Dog Tier is situated a little over 6km north of Lake Augusta Dam and the former Antarctic research station turned alpine lodge, Wild Dog Tier itself stretches for many kilometres around Wild Dog Plains, from the eastern side of the River Ouse around to the foothills of Great Lake, terminating at Rats Castle to the south-east.
Back in late June, a day after heavy snow had thwarted our first attempt to summit Mt Rufus, Tracey and I undertook something of an afternoon scoping mission to assess access to Wild Dog Tier. Unsurprisingly, winter rain and snow had swollen Thomsons Rivulet and flooded the surrounding marshes, resulting in a couple of hours spent rather aimlessly wandering ever east, looking for a narrow enough access point to cross. All whilst staring at a wondrously snow-capped Wild Dog far off to the north.
Eventually we concurred that Wild Dog Tier would have to wait until the winter was over and the plains had a chance to dry out. So when we caught news that our friend Carolyn was organising a Launceston Walking Club group out in late October, we wasted no time putting our names down. Also joining us would be Bender & Xing trip regulars Chris and Lynnda.
Despite now being well into spring and the days rapidly warming, winter it seemed was not yet done with 2019. The day before on Ironstone Mountain we were greeted with a fair fall of snow on our return journey, and sure enough, upon waking the next morning at our family shack at Great Lake, we were greeted with another dusting. Be prepared for anything I thought to myself as I stuffed my heavy waterproof jacket and extra pairs of gloves into my pack before we set off.
We met up with the rest of the Walking Club a bit after 9:30am at the Lake Augusta boat-ramp, adjacent from the now-restored Thousand Lakes Lodge. After so many years of seeing the old Bernacchi Training Centre sit disused and vandalised, it is fantastic to see it fixed up and utilised again. After a quick plan-of-attack briefing from Carolyn, and the occasional flurry of snow still falling, we set off, taking the cairned lead described in The Abels Vol. 1 that follows the eastern shoreline of Lake Augusta.
Initial concerns about crossing Thomsons Rivulet proved to be unfounded, as the water levels had receded enough near its outlet into the lake to allow crossing without wetting a toe. This was a relief as it would save much marsh-bashing further east to find a narrow enough crossing.
The first major obstacle of the day dealt with, we now took a northerly heading, aiming for a saddle on the ridge that sits between the most western knoll and its more central neighbour. For the next 4-5 kilometres we crossed a variety of low marshland vegetation that, other than the occasional patches of alpine shrub, offered minimal resistance and allowed for very easy and pleasant walking. Even better, the day seemed to be clearing with brief patches of blue sky.
Our group of 14 made good pace and within an hour and a half, we started gaining elevation as we approached the more wooded area that skirts the base of Wild Dog Tier itself. Clearly the weather gods had heard our quiet thoughts about the improving weather, sending through short squalls of drizzle and snow that had everyone putting their coats on, then removing them every 10 minutes. This would set the trend for the rest of the day.
At the foot of the Tier, the vegetation increased in height markedly and we began to pick our route through through the trees and waist-to-head-high scrub, using numerous sections of scree to our advantage as we gained elevation more rapidly.
Eventually, convenient areas of scree ran out and we were soon pushing through tea-tree and other tight vegetation for a few hundred metres before eventually popping out onto some higher rocks above the tree-belt. From here, the route to the saddle was primarily rock and scree, intermixed with small pockets of low heath, making for fairly easy going.
From the ridgeline saddle, the actual summit knoll lies a further 3.5km to the north-east. Rather than attempt to straddle the ridgeline at its highest points, which would involve scrabbling over several broken knolls, The Abels Vol. 1 recommends continuing north for a few hundred metres to drop down into the valley between the major ridge and a knoll further north. From here, we then made a north-easterly bearing, staying close to the foot of the ridge, picking our way through mostly low-lying vegetation, using the occasional animal pad to good effect through the thicker bushes.
After another 45 mins of walking, we finally arrived at the base of the north-most knoll and began our climb towards the summit. Here, we met a mix of denser alpine bush and relatively steep scree and rock to negotiate as we scrambled our way to the top.
Several short rises over pockets of stiff scrub and the four separate summit cairns finally revealed themselves, a shade under three-and-a-half hours from setting off. My 50th Abel (and Tracey’s 51st) was in the bag!
A well-earned lunch was enjoyed just behind the summit, sheltering us from the stiff cool wind we were now fully exposed to, before setting off on our return journey. We retraced our route back to the saddle, and using our higher vantage point to spy a somewhat less dense patch of forest further east from our ascent path, made our way down off the ridge.
This turned out to be quite fortuitous as we found more scree, animal tracks and drainage channels through the forest band, despite being only about 100m east from where we’d come up previously. The lack of resistance combined with gravity’s helping hand made for a quick and surprisingly easy descent back down, and we were back onto the plains in seemingly no time whatsoever.
Once back out onto Wild Dog Plains it was simply a matter of retracing our steps south for the remaining kilometres back to Lake Augusta. By this stage the dull skies and intermittent snow had been replaced by sun, and we were back at the boat ramp just shy of seven hours total. A great day out, topped off by the fact that with Wild Dog Tier now climbed, both Tracey and I had completed all the Central Highlands Abels – winning!
A special thanks to Carolyn from the Launceston Walking Club for organising and leading another great day out Abel-bagging!