We had previously attempted Mersey Crag as a day trip a month earlier, coming in from the west after summiting Clumner Bluff. Unfortunately we had badly underestimated the time needed to cover the expansive plain between the two peaks, and ended up giving up, to try again another day.
Date: 7th December 2019 – Summit: 1430m
Distance: Approximate 10km return from our campsite in the Little Fisher River valley.
Time taken: About 5 hrs, including breaks.
Difficulty: Untracked and unmarked once off the Little Fisher River track, but otherwise reasonably simple off track walking through low vegetation, rock outcrops and tarns. Would need to be considered carefully in bad weather and limited visibility though.
Type of track: Unmarked from Little Fisher River track.
Access from: Southern saddle of the Little Fisher River valley. Refer to our Mersey Crag post for details on the route from Dublin Road via Rinadeena Falls.
We weren’t keen on waiting too long either, so quickly drew up plans to do an overnight trip – as soon as opportunity from ‘adult responsibilities’ allowed – down the Little Fisher River track which runs in the valley separating Mersey Crag from its taller fellow Abel to the east, Turrana Bluff. This would would put us in prime position to summit both peaks, which The Abels list as both being ‘hard’ due to both being accessed entirely off track across exposed ridgelines.
Speaking of The Abels, the Good Book describes access to both Mersey Crag and Turrana Bluff from the south, via the main Walls of Jerusalem track through to Dixons Kingdom and then north via the Long Tarns Track. This would make for a great multi-day adventure, and of course allow for the Abels of King David’s Peak and Mt. Jerusalem to be scaled too, but the Little Fisher River track is definitely a shorter and easier option, making for a rewarding but relatively unstressed overnighter or, if you’re really keen, a big day trip.
The start of Little Fisher River track begins near the end of Dublin Road, accessed off Mersey Forest Road just past the top of Lake Rowallan. The bridge over the Little Fisher River itself is another victim of flood damage in recent years, with vehicle access now blocked a little over a kilometre further up the road, where a widened area for car parking has been made.
Wanting an early start on track – but not the 4:30am wake up that goes with it – we instead decided to head out late Friday night and car-camp at the end of Dublin Road so we could have a more civilised start to our adventure at first light. While driving around old middle-of-nowhere logging roads at 11pm at night isn’t normally recommended, we found Dublin Road was surprisingly well maintained. It turns out Rinadeena Falls is a popular walking destination and Parks et. al. haven’t been shy on investing in the area… more on that later.
After a night that proved emphatically why yoga mats in the back of a Mazda CX-5 aren’t necessarily the greatest option for a good night’s sleep (!) we awoke to cool but promisingly clear conditions. Snow storms had been battering Cradle Mountain a mere 30km or so west earlier in the week, and we had left with news that a trio of hikers were holed up in Kitchen Hut with hypothermia. As usual, we were hoping the BoM’s uninspiring predictions for Saturday was pessimistic, and that Sunday’s improved forecast would come early. So far the signs were good.
Suitably breakfast’d and caffeinated, we set off east, following the gravel road, mostly downhill for 1.4km until the condemned bridge – now sporting a new foot bridge over the top of it – is reached. Despite being a week into summer, the Little Fisher River was still flowing hard from the steady spring rains and snow melt.
From here the road – now greening over from lack of vehicular use – continues on a few hundred metres until veering right up a short side road before the ‘official’ start of the track begins, punctuated with an official PWS-Walls of Jerusalem sign and log book. The book revealed only a handful of visitors going beyond the Falls in the past couple of months (including that of Lucas Chamberlain, who has posted a couple of useful videos to his YouTube channel regarding the Abels in this area).
Once upon a time it was possible to drive a car to within approximately 3km of Rinadeena Falls. Encroaching lichen and moss suggest that was quite some time ago now (my original Abels Vol 1. edition from 1994 mentions that the road was still open but likely to close in the near future) but save for the occasional washout and several fallen trees, the track remains wide and clear for effortless walking. Elevation gain is gradual, and we found ourselves covering this initial 6km section in not much over an hour.
At the end of the original carpark, a new-looking footbridge assists progress over a narrow tributary of the Little Fisher River, before the track continues on, somewhat narrowed, along what must have been an old logging trail. Again, the neat gravel base made for very easy walking, even burdened with full packs. Thanks to the heavy vegetation either side, it was like walking down a long, green tunnel, and in the cool clear air of the morning made for wonderful walking.
About half a kilometre down the trail, another new footbridge was met, this time providing much safer access across the Little Fisher River itself, than the decaying base logs underneath. By now, the weather was alternating between light drizzle and sun almost every 10 minutes.
From here, the track narrowed to neat singletrack. Another 200m or so further on, we came across yet another new looking footbridge, stretching over a feeder creek adjacent Little Fisher River. Parks certainly haven’t been stingy with their infrastructure dollars here!
Continuing further south, the track base softened to a dirt pad with plenty of mud and standing water to slosh through. Eventually, the scrub transitioned to open myrtle forest, and the track followed in close proximity to the river, gaining elevation steadily for another half-kilometre until Rinadeena Falls revealed itself.
There was no lack of water coming over the Falls; heavy misting from the crashing water combined with numerous trees in the way made getting a decent photo quite a challenge! After drenching myself trying, enjoying a much needed snack break and taking in a few minutes to appreciate the beauty of the secluded place we found ourselves in, we set about continuing on… and hit a snag.
Officially, the track jumps over the creek just below the Falls and continues on alongside the Little Fisher River. I say ‘officially’ because while the track markers can be clearly seen continuing on the other side, there’s no structure – natural or man made – to help you over the creek itself. Obviously Parks’ bridge budget couldn’t go any further.
This likely isn’t a big deal throughout much of the summer walking months, when the Falls are reduced to a trickle and making one’s way over exposed boulders is trivial. We, however, had rather fast flowing and surprisingly deep water in front of us. Someone before us had tried to build a rudimentary bridge out of a couple of spindly trees, but these looked like a very wet accident waiting to happen, especially with big packs on!
After many minutes of searching further downstream, we eventually spotted a narrow and relatively shallow section of creek. A couple of relocated boulders and a fallen sapling for a handrail, and we had enough stepping stones in a row to get us across with dry boots.
Reunited with the track on the eastern side of Rinadeena Falls, we were briefly given a bum steer by a series of pink ribbons which appear to lead up to the top of the Falls. Mistake realised, we tracked east back down onto the track and continued our way further south.
It appears far fewer walkers venture beyond the Falls, and as such the track rapidly became less apparent in the open expanse of the myrtle understory. Numerous fallen trees compounded the issue and we found ourselves regularly losing the pad under the debris. Intermittent Ruben tape along with old red blazes painted on trees were a help, though the track never strays for from the river of course, and the risk of actually getting lost is low.
The valley began to narrow and soon we found ourselves gaining elevation at a more noticeable pace, climbing up higher on the embankment with the river dropping below us, at times the pad little more than a foot or so wide before dropping away sharply. We soon came up on a large open rock cave; previous research had indicated a series of steep climbs aided by permanent knotted ropes a la Drys Bluff, and sure enough, this was the place.
Even with our big packs on, the climb up the embankment wasn’t too taxing, with the ropes proving more helpful than absolutely necessary. We did however manage to miss a second rope off to the left on our way up, and ended up taking something of a ‘long way around’ trip to the right before rejoining the track. Of course the mistake wasn’t realised until we came back on our return journey, and the penny dropped!
The track meandered on for another couple of kilometres through the myrtle forest, with a seemingly endless number of fallen trees to clamber over, and many temporary creeks trickling down the steep bank to negotiate. The continued climb up combined with the lack of any useful breeze underneath the dense forest canopy meant we were really working up a sweat by this stage, and I was secretly hoping we’d be popping out onto open alpine plain sooner rather than later!
Sure enough, the vegetation changed dramatically from myrtle forest to sub alpine montane with dense, low-lying scrub and sparse snow gums as we ascended the final 50m or so up into the marshland that feeds the Little Fisher River. The denser scrub soon receded as the valley opened up for vast swages of coral fern and cushion plants nestled alongside dozens of small tarns and drains. Both Turrana Bluff (to the east) and Mersey Crag (to the west) could now be seen clearly, where their startling steepness could be fully witnessed. Contours on a map reveal only so much.
By now it was early afternoon, and with the intermittent drizzle not threatening for at least a handful of minutes (!) it was time to find a camp site and get the tent up. Our eventual spot was barely off the track; not ideal normally, but it seemed a safe bet we’d have the place more or less to ourselves, and flat clear spots above the water line were in short supply.
Accommodation sorted and a quick lunch downed, we were keen to make the most of the remaining afternoon, especially while the sun seemed to be winning out over the drizzle. The Abels mentioned potential access to Mersey Crag through the forest and scree fields from the north of the summit, but from our vantage point this looked thick, steep and thus rather unappealing. Likewise, the ‘chute’ of screefall immediately south of Turrana’s summit, that I’d noted from the aerial photographs as a potential access point onto the ridge, looked extremely steep and likely dangerous given earlier drizzle, not to mention the current wind conditions. Earlier while we prepped lunch, Tracey had noticed “smoke” coming from near the top of Turrana; cranking the digital zoom on my iPhone revealed this wasn’t actually smoke, of course, but a small waterfall being completely ripped off the rock face and flung over the ridge by the updraft of strong wind!
Instead, we figured heading south to where both Mersey’s and Turrana’s ridgelines meet at the top of the valley would at least give us a better access point. We donned our day packs and continued along the main track for another kilometre, where the valley rises up and meets the very top of the Long Tarns plateau. A substantial cairn marks a relatively flat clearing about three-quarters of the way up, giving a great view northwards with the valley overshadowed by its two Abels. While access to Turrana’s ridgeline to the east appeared to still be quite thick scrub, Mersey’s ridge to the left was low alpine heath, with a seemingly clear path up onto the ridge. Knowing that the summit to Mersey Crag was approximately half the distance away than Turrana’s, we decided it was the better option for the remaining time we had.
We turned west and made good progress up the steep but relatively bare ridge, avoiding the worst of the thicker vegetation and patches of bare rock until we crested the initial ridgeline, enjoying views further south of the expanse that is Long Tarns and the northern end of the Walls of Jerusalem. After pushing through a band of head-high scoparia and other bushes-of-a-spiky-nature surrounding a narrow creek, we made up onto the ridgeline proper and could now for the first time assess our final approach to the summit, which stood about 750m further ahead.
From here, following the ridgeline in a broadly north-westerly direction proved easy enough over the ankle-high heath and broken rock. While the ranges further to our west were covered extensively in snow, only small patches were to be found as evidence of the decidedly bad weather the region had endured earlier in the week.
We dropped briefly into a gully, with a gorgeous tarn flanked by stands of pencil pines at its base, then climbed again up onto another barren shoulder, which gave a clear path towards the bare summit massif, standing proud from a surrounding mane of scree and boulders. This was quickly scaled, bringing us finally to the cairnless summit approximately an hour and 15 minutes since leaving the main track. Abel bagged!
Unfortunately by now, the weather had started to crack up again. Completely exposed to the icy winds blasting over the flat expanse to our west, we wasted little time grabbing some quick photos before making our way back down off the massif and tucking in under the eastern edge of the ridge. The question we faced now was: do we back-trace our entire route, or do we make a bee-line for our tent east, visibly sitting in the middle of the valley floor,maybe 600-700m away? Of course, there was also a drop of about 450m to contend with too! From the summit I’d noticed the terrain immediately east was comprised of cliffs and steep scree, so that was no good. However a bit further south, the slope wasn’t quite as steep, and was covered in the same low alpine heath for at least a few hundred metres before hitting the treeline. It’d be a scrub bash, but at least it would be a short one and gravity would give a (firm) helping hand.
We retraced our steps back to a lowish depression a few hundred metres southeast of the summit, then followed the green belt of lowish heath north-east until the edge of the ridgeline was met. From here the drop was steep but manageable, and with the advantage of height we could avoid the worst of the larger boulders and thick scrub. Progress was fast and physical, with nearby flora providing handgrips as we rapidly lost elevation.
As the grade lessened towards the bottom of the valley, the waist-high heath and occasional snow gum gave way to much thicker and taller eucalypt scrub and bands of tea tree, which unsurprisingly required a lot more effort to push through. Mercifully, our tent soon reappeared through the foliage, and we eventually popped out on the marsh not far from our camp in approximately in an hour from the summit. Whether the scrub bash was worth it is hard to answer; it wasn’t much faster than the likely time needed to retrace our ascent route, but it did get us out of the prevailing westerly weather and offer some great views of Turrana Bluff and the surrounding valley.
Now safely back at camp before 6pm, we had ample time to cook dinner and settle in for a well earned (and needed!) sleep before tackling Turrana Bluff in the morning.