Mt. Othrys was approved by the Nomenclature Board in 1994 subsequent to a submission by Bill Wilkinson, author of The Abels. In Greek mythology it was from the fortress on Mt. Othrys that the Titans warred against the Olympian Gods. On approach from the buttongrass moors of the Curvier Valley, Mt. Othrys appears unremarkable in every respect, but enter its realm and it lives up to its namesake with scrub and boulders forming its fortress. Those prepared to war with this mountain and reach the summit are very richly rewarded with views I think even the mythical Greek Gods would have relished.
Date: 22nd December 2019 – Summit: 1279m
Distance: 21km out-and-back.
Time taken: 8.5 hours return, including numerous stops to take photos, refill our water from creeks and film a beautiful tiger snake!
Difficulty: Hard. Dense bush, mostly untracked, large boulders and a razor-like summit.
Type of track: Tracked as far as the Curvier Valley, and then untracked.
Access from: Lake St. Clair Visitors Centre.
We were in need of an adventure and with it being the Summer Solstice we had lots of time to play in the mountains. The night before Ben and I discussed the merits of climbing either Mt. Hugel or Mt. Othrys. Both are graded “Hard” by The Abels. Researching away it appeared Mt. Hugel is often climbed and not terribly challenging. There was next to nothing available about climbing Mt. Othrys and the information available wasn’t particularly flattering. We settled on climbing Mt. Othrys and after much debate, climbing it from the Curvier Valley instead of the Overland Track. In hindsight, we made the right choice about climbing from the Curvier Valley Track.
With a 2.5 hour drive to the Lake St. Clair Visitors Centre, an 8 hour hike (possibly even longer) and then a 2.5 hour drive home we knew it would be a long day. We left Launceston just on 5am and the weather looked promising. In fact, for the first time in a long time, we were worrying about it being too hot! All roads lead to Rome from the Visitors Centre and so after recording our intentions in the log book we headed towards the start of the walking tracks. After crossing the bridge at Watersmeet we walked along the Overland Track (OLT) for a few hundred metres before reaching the junction to the Curvier Valley Track. Interestingly, Parks seem to have removed the sign indicating the track leads to the Curvier Valley. We wondered if it is because the track is not maintained by Parks at all anymore, or perhaps due to a recent winter rescue in the area. We weren’t sure what condition the track would be in.
We needn’t have worried. Even though the Curvier Valley Track doesn’t get the amount of foot traffic, nor the maintenance dollars that the OLT does it was easy to follow and in reasonable condition. The track was for the most part frequently marked with reflective markers and obvious enough to not even warrant the use of those. Some very minor sections could do with some refreshing by way of removing storm debris or trampling the pad more but we were pleasantly surprised. The initial kilometre or so of the track was quite muddy and boggy in places, with disintegrated board walk but nothing that would stop one from proceeding. Ben had headed out on a trail run with a mate along the track a few year’s earlier and found it overgrown to such a point that they had had to turn back. Word is local walking clubs have performed some much needed track maintenance in the past 12 months or so.
The initial section of track lead through sections of dense tea tree and alpine bush, but it was well clear of the track itself. Further along this changed to typical OLT-type terrain – dry sclerophyll forest, rocky, rooty and sandy tracks. Easy to walk over and with very minimal gains in elevation, save for a few short pinches. We were loving it. The sun was out but not yet hot, there was a small breeze and the forest was decidedly pretty. Ideal walking conditions.
After walking less than an hour, the track led out into low alpine heath and we received our first glimpse of the day’s target – Mt. Othrys. It was entirely overshadowed by the more eye-catching Mt. Olympus to its north. In fact, so underwhelming was Mt. Othrys that Ben initially thought it was another hill. I was looking at my map thinking “that can’t be it?” It was a bit like opening a shiny lolly wrapper to find a bean inside. All the promise with none of the sweet stuff. “May your mountains rise into and above the clouds” wasn’t written about Othrys. It was low with two camel-like humps and nothing really going for it. Oh well, it won’t take long to get to the top at least. How wrong we were.
A few minutes walking through the alpine heath and we dropped down into the low lying moor with coral fern covering, alpine sedge and low level shrub. It was this spot that we would refill our water bottles for the first time as the day was now growing hot and the sun had some intensity to it. We had made fast progress to this point so we stopped to admire the Curvier River. There was no shortage of water available to us from here onwards with small running creeks even available all the way to the rock scree just below the summit. Later into summer, this may be a different matter.
The track continued along towards the button grass plains and was marked less frequently now. Ski poles holding orange or red reflector markers were helpful as the track became less distinct in some sections from here on in. The coral fern plains eventually gave way to our nemesis – button grass – and for the next few kilometres we were protesting its very existence. It reminded us of the button grass hell traversed to reach Recondite Knob. This section of button grass wasn’t large enough to allow us to walk over the top of its tussocks but rather indiscriminate enough that we were forced to walk in the muddy, boggy channels intertwined through it. At some points our boots and gaiters were sinking right in, at other points the channels completely covered by the button grass’ flattened spikelets making for perfect, warm hiding holes for snakes. The joys!
We knew from The Abels book that the best ascent was from a point at right angles to Mt. Othrys’ and that to divert too early would mean hitting denser scrub and cliff lines. From our vantage point directly opposite Mt. Othrys we could see a few things that would determine our chosen point to start the climb. One, some small cliffs a third of the way down the western face, two, a shorter pocket of scrub to the scree below the mountain’s summit and three, the long ridgeline on its northern end. We decided on a path that would lead us up the shortest section of bush, in between the lower cliffs and hopefully the quickest ascent, avoiding the long scrubby ridgeline at the north. I took a bearing of a scree field above where we wanted to pop out of the bush and we started trekking east over the button grass to the mountain.
Even though we knew we would soon be bashing through the bush we were excited to be leaving the button grass. We started our hike to the base by joining a line of trees leading to the scrub determining that the button grass would be less vivacious next to the tree line and we were right. We were able to latch onto a well formed animal pad and without any difficulty reach the scrub line quickly. Mt. Othrys’ initial fortress was dense, healthy tea-tree. In some areas it was easy to navigate semi-clear paths through, and in some areas more than a little gentle nudging was required! This was just an indicator of what was to come…
The next layer of defense that Mt. Othrys had to offer was eucalypt forest. Closed in, rotten, dried out and rocky are the best descriptors of this area. The forest was full of fallen trees that gave way under your feet without notice. Clambering over them or even walking along them was somewhat risky as the wood would just disintegrate underfoot. The leafy floor covering hid rocks and holes that our feet would quickly disappear down into – a rolled ankle waiting to happen! The day was now hot, the sweat was running off us and not only were we having to force our way through untracked bush but we could not trust our footings either. Every single step we took we had to gauge what was under out feet, as we would just crash down otherwise. It was exhausting using our upper bodies to forge through and bracing our legs against the impact of ground cover disappearing. With no line of sight above us we were grateful for our compass bearing to keep us on track and avoid the cliffs which would not be visible again until we were on them.
Just as our patience for falling through the ground and having our faces and arms scratched by forcing through the bush was wearing thin, we broke out into a beautiful but unfortunately very short lived pocket of almost rainforest-like canopy. Soft mossy ground was under our feet, the relentless density of scrub gave way to open forest and we were shaded from the heat. Bliss, short lived bliss, for soon we would hit the next layer of defence Mt. Othrys had.
Seeing above ground rock (as opposed to the buried-under-scrub, roll-your-ankle-type rock) we both got a little excited. We should have known that this mountain wouldn’t allow such easy passage! It was like the titans themselves just aimlessly threw rocks at the ground leaving them in random and sporadic patterns. Not close enough for easy rock hopping, and not far enough apart that a step or two could be enjoyed in between them. The holes between the rocks covered again with flaking timber and forest debris. No sooner would your foot land and it would disappear. Fallen tree branches and whole trees themselves prevented easy rock hopping. The only blessing at this stage being that we were not fighting the ever encroaching scrub. Our progress had slowed to a kilometre an hour. Tediously slow, but necessary.
Finally we arrived at the scree field below the summit. We had avoided the cliffs and hit our exact target and so we were well pleased with our navigation. We had also filled our water at a small creek a few minutes earlier and so had plenty of water for the hot work of clambering over boulders – and boy were these boulders! Some as big as cars with large gaps between them. Some of the crevices so deep that if you fell in there would be no way out except for professional rescue. We took our time picking the safest path upwards. There were a few moments where Ben had his work cut out convincing me that it was worthwhile to continue. With less than 100m to the summit I was getting more shaky by the minute! Like the Cat in The Hat does not like green eggs and ham – I do not like exposure. I do not like it at all. As we climbed higher, the exposure worsened. Even Ben – who has no real fear of heights or exposure – admitted some sections were sketchy even for his liking!
We cautiously continued along the razor back ridge towards the northern summit. At times having to retrace our steps back when we came to boulders too large to scale or too exposed to get around. At one stage we were faced with a choice to try to climb in between and up some massive boulders with some horrid vertical drops, or try to sidle around the western face over a small ledge with fair exposure to the boulder field below. I wasn’t keen on either of those options, so backtracked and went in search of an alternative, dropping off a small ledge on the eastern side of the mountain, I used scrub for hand holds to sidle around towards the north. Although not perfect, a fall would probably at most resulted in a sprain or break. Ben decided to follow me and we eventually popped out in a saddle just below the summit high points. Now the real challenge started!
Popping up from the cliff face on the western side into a small band of scrub just below the summit high points, we located a cairn. Life forms had been here before. Pity it was the last cairn we would see except for the summit cairn. Here we re-hydrated and I filled up with sugar for a little scotch courage for the final summit climb. We spent some time assessing a possible path from here, but it was a choose-your-own-adventure event, once again encountering huge boulders that would turn us back for a re-route. I was very glad to get to our first high point. The vertical drop on both the eastern and western faces had me feeling uneasy but Ben loved it! From this first high point we could spy the true summit and its tiny summit cairn. The problem was it looked almost impossible to reach without ropes. Whilst Ben was taking photos I decided to head towards it – gingerly!
I slowly negotiated the climb down and headed towards the cairned high point. The small summit cairn sat atop a pile of jagged and near-vertical boulders. To the eastern side was a vertical drop that was stomach turning. No climbing that. To the western side it was also a sheer drop but perhaps limb breaking, not death inducing. A little investigation revealed that with Ben’s help and some degree of stretching and gripping on for dear life I could reach a spot below the summit cairn that would shelter me from both drops. Very ungracefully I wedged myself safely into the small channel of rock and regrouped. Then, putting on my big girl pants I climbed out of my safe spot to touch the summit cairn and have a proof of stupidity photo! Summit bagged.
Finally Mt. Othrys dropped her guard and allowed us to view her beauty. She had proved although a small presence she has the guts and gusto of her neighbouring Mt. Olympus. The views from her summit were well earned but rich in rewards. Stunning vistas of a crystal Lake St. Clair to our east with Mt. Ida rising behind it. To our west the differing shades of the Curvier Valley. Even her razorback ridge extending to the south was beautiful in all its irregular sharpness. There we sat, sunburnt, sweaty and physically beaten for a moment immersing ourselves in her beauty. For then it was time to fight her again all the way to the bottom with the promise of hot salty chips and strong coffee at Lake St. Clair Visitors Centre to look forward to.
Incidentally, if anyone retracing our steps comes across a blue and black Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ walking stick – most likely embedded in the thick tea-tree scrub – Ben would really love it back! He says there’s definitely a carton in it for its safe return… send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.