Date: 30th October 2019 Summit: 1340m
With this being the last in the Eastern Plateau section of The Abels book for me, I was more than eager to get it in the bag. Ben had previously trail run Drys Bluff with friends but only gone as far as the trig point. Like true purists we believe that if you haven’t ventured to the recognised summit as per the “Abels bible” then you can’t claim the mountain. Little did we know that short, under-2km traverse across the summit plateau from the trig to the summit cairn would test our tired legs almost more than the 1000m of elevation gain up to that point!
Distance: 14.5km return.
Time taken: About 5.5 hours with breaks but we did trail run a substantial part of the descent.
Difficulty: Hard. A sharp, unrelenting climb to the plateau, and then walking through dense scrub across to the summit.
Type of track: Tracked to the summit plateau, then completely untracked to the summit.
Access from: ‘Oura Oura’ on Liffey Falls Road.
Before we recount our joint journey up Drys Bluff, another story needs to be told. I started mountain climbing about two years ago and had climbed a few Abels with friends socially. I also enjoyed the occasional trail run; I was never fast and couldn’t run particularly far but loved it nevertheless. In June 2018, my friends Mel and Karen convinced me to join in an UltraChix trail running day to Liffey Falls. The plan was to be bused out to Liffey, run some beautiful trails and follow it up with food and wine afterwards. What’s not to love?!
UltraChix were updating their website at the time, and had asked a friend of theirs who was a keen photographer to join in for the day to snap some new images. Whilst running the beautiful trails at Liffey, I wondered to myself where on earth they had found a photographer that could run so fast – and also thought he was a bit cute! Turns out the photographer was actually a trail running friend of theirs and a man named Ben. Here under the imposing facade of Drys Bluff was where Ben and I first met, and the rest as they say in the movies is history! Now back to our trip report…
The start of the track proper is located off Liffey Falls Road on private property at Oura Oura. Oura Oura is Bob Brown’s former residence which was donated by him to Bush Heritage Australia in 2011 and they graciously allow use of the track. As the residence is still used it is important to be respectful while passing by. After parking at the car park, a small path leads down to a footbridge which connects you to Oura Oura. It is delightfully picturesque wandering along the green paddock leading past the residence to the trail behind. A creek runs to your right, horses graze to the left and Drys Bluff commands the horizon. We continued past the large fallen walnut tree and the huge sawn-off tree base that gives an insight into the ancient age of the forest we are about to enter until we reached the track proper.
Drys Bluff has a well earned reputation for being steep from beginning to end and it deserves every bit of that infamy; with 1000m of elevation gained over a mere 3km to the plateau it’s considered one of the steepest walks in Tasmania. Right from the first few steps on the trail it began to climb sharply and did not relent until the plateau was reached. The trail underfoot was well padded and easy to follow but none of that made up for the vertical gradient! Occasional yellow tape markers assisted with navigation where needed. Lynnda, our wonderful hiking buddy, had joined us for Drys Bluff but was soon feeling unwell and made the wise choice to head back to the car early on and rest next to the creek for a few hours whilst we summited.
Ben and I had tired legs from climbing Wild Dog Tier and Ironstone Mountain in the days prior, and so were taking it relatively easy. We had decided to wear trail runners instead of our regular hiking boots as heavy boots would have made hard work of Drys Bluff. We were both loving that choice as our feet were light, toes and ankles flexible and we could still wear our gaiters to protect us from any cold blooded, sun-loving friends we might meet in the scrub. It was warm out and Drys Bluff was an ambitious choice for a hot and muggy spring day!
The forest canopy was giving us limited protection from the burning sun and a little reprieve from its direct rays, but we were going through our water rapidly in the ever increasing heat of the day. Drys Bluff has an almost all year round water source near the summit plateau and so we would refill our water supplies there. We were now hiking a little faster than normal as we were conscious of Lynnda waiting for us back at the car. The elevation was relentless at this stage and at times hand holds on trees or rocks were needed to assist our passage up. Only very occasionally would the trail flatten out for a few steps and rarely would any downhill be encountered!
To this point we had been climbing up mostly leafy forest trail mixed with small amounts of gravel-like ground covering. We reached the first of four rope climbs which assist climbers up the sandstone sections of rock wall encountered. The first rope climb wasn’t difficult at all and the rock could probably be scaled without the rope. That said, we realised on our decent the ropes assist more coming down than the climb up!
After the first rope climb the elevation became more intense, if that is even possible! Our first planned stop was at the lookout rock to catch our breath, have a quick energy-inducing snack and then face the continuing climb to the summit plateau. The track continued to be a mix of dry and somewhat slippery leaf littered trail interspersed with gravel. It was on one of these sun warmed gravel areas just prior to the lookout that we would meet a tiger snake enjoying the early afternoon rays. Ben was leading at this stage which was good because I always want to pat them and he never lets me (Tracey’s innate desire to bring home every critter we see isn’t limited to cute, fuzzy marsupials – Ben.). Looking upwards to the daunting face of Drys Bluff gave us a reality check of how much we still had left to climb. Best get back to it then!
Leaving the lookout the trail led us briefly back into the cover of the forest, but unlike the lower areas of canopy these upper areas offered almost no protection from the sun. The ground was becoming even steeper and was now less forest trail and more rock with the occasional cairn. We knew given the changing terrain we would soon hit the scree field leading towards the notch we would enter the summit plateau from.
Upon reaching the scree field we could hear voices above us and arrived just in time to see another group of hikers resting at the top of the scree. As far as scree fields go it was pretty minor with very amenable rock sizes. It literally took us just minutes to scale keeping to the right hand side of it. Immediately to the top of the scree field a narrow and dense rock passage is passed through and an important note is to look to your right once through this passage (or down at your feet where arrows scratched into the rock indicate a right turn). Heading right will bring you into a hidden from view almost cave-like area with a waterfall and a solid wall of rock.
Climbing through a small patch of wooded trees we found ourselves at the base of the huge rock wall. The waterfall was flowing heavily and the sandstone faces of the rock were all wet and slippery. Here the two permanently fixed ropes assisted our passage up the wall. Once again we remarked that we could have climbed the wall without the use of the ropes but on our decent were very grateful they were there!
One more rock scramble and rope climb bought us finally to the creek bed we would follow up before entering the summit plateau. Resting here for a few seconds to gather our breath and enjoy the opening views we discussed that the worst was over. How very wrong we were!
The icy cold water from the creek bed, knowing we were almost on the summit plateau – and so some flatish terrain – revived our tired legs and lifted our heat-worn spirits! We pictured in our minds stepping onto the summit plateau, seeing the magical summit cairn off to the south of the trig and jaunting across to it. No sir, no.
The final 2km or so from the entry point on the plateau to the summit cairn would test our tired legs and mental strength! Three mountains in three days and the elevation of Drys Bluff on tired legs was nothing short of hard work. We had actually chosen Drys Bluff for our day’s hike as my amazing son was sitting his P-Plate test and I being the nervous mother thought Drys Bluff would be a welcome distraction! And for that purpose Drys served me well. We set off across the plateau with the rise containing the precious summit cairn off in the far distance.
We had chosen well with trail runners to summit Drys and they made easy work of the hike up to the plateau. However, they were not ideal for the untracked scrub bash across the plateau, nevertheless it was all we had. The scrub alternated between ankle to shoulder height at times and our legs were growing ever weary.
After bush bashing southwards we passed the HEC marker with a nearby small cairn which is oft-mistaken for the summit cairn. Pushing on further south we were determined to make it to the true summit as indicated on Ben’s InReach and other GPS apps, and after just under 3.5 hours we were rewarded by reaching the more substantially built summit cairn! Yay! Time for a quick drink and snack and then a fast return to Lynnda. That return journey would turn out to be a lot faster than even we had anticipated!
No sooner had we enjoyed a celebratory coffee and Scotch Finger biscuit (honestly, a summit wouldn’t be the same without these staples) we were stretching our legs in preparation for a fast walk back down to a waiting Lynnda. A few steps from the summit my phone would ring for the second time that day, this time with my daughter’s school ringing to say that she had fallen from rock climbing and hurt her ankle. They reassured me she was fine but as a mother no matter how much reassurance you get, until you see your child healthy and well with your own eyes, you cannot rest easy. Our fast walk down to meet Lynnda would turn into a trail run down off the mountain. All of a sudden our tired legs had just reason to find some energy and get us off the mountain pronto! Wearing trail runners was now a total blessing!
The sense of urgency to get back to the car made for a rapid trip down Drys Bluff. Speed hiking the sections that could not be run (the ropes and over the scree) and part-trail running, part-free falling the trails we pushed hard to get down. Red faced, short of breath and sweating from exertion in the heat we reached Oura Oura in just under two hours. The look on poor Lynnda’s face as we came racing out of the canopy was classic. But all is well that ends well. Lynnda enjoyed a lazy day in the sun practicing her photography skills and Ben and I got a hike and trail run mixed into one with over 1200m of elevation. Most importantly, my daughter was fine and yes my son passed his P-Plates. Happy times indeed and one could say even more memorable than the day we met at Oura Oura! (But there was that whole story about the egg you failed to mention, darling… 😉 – Ben.)