Alas, there is no witty idiom – woven in 16th-century thespian language – to be found here. Sorry Bill!
Located deep within the Florentine Valley, Mt. Shakespeare sits across from the ridgeline that terminates with Wylds Craig to its south-west. With its broad, lowly shape and indistinct, vegetated summit, Mt. Shakespeare appears not to attract many walkers relative to its taller, shapely and much more assessible neighbour. It however, along with the neighbouring Lake Daphne and Lake Laurel, is a wonderful off track walk for experienced hikers comfortable with navigation and camping in an elevated alpine environment.
Distance: Approximately 15km out-and-back from the Wylds Craig track.
Time taken: About 10hrs total over two days. From the Wylds Craig track to Lake Laurel about 3 hrs, from Lake Laurel to the summit was just under 2 hrs. We had a large group in warm weather, so our pace was moderate.
Difficulty: Difficult. It is important to understand that this is an untracked, unmarked, and often exposed route through alpine grasslands and thick sub-alpine forests of snow gum, tea tree, and pandani. Some steep boulder scrambling is also involved.
Type of track: Off-track route.
Access from: Wylds Craig track, Florentine Valley.
A first look…
I first spied Mt. Shakespeare when we climbed the nearby Wylds Craig back in late August of 2020. The temptation to climb a second Abel was strong, especially one so (seemingly) close. A late start in the depths of winter and plenty of snow beyond Goodwins Moor really meant we were in no place to seriously consider it. We’d only just beaten twilight by the time we made it back to the car, after all!
Some online reports confirmed it was indeed possible to make both peaks as a daywalk, but these were in the middle of summer, where long daylight hours could be fully utilised. “One for summer” I said. “Would be nicer as an overnighter anyway…”, trying to make myself feel better as Mt. Shakespeare’s rounded peak disappeared from view as we dropped off the plateau.
Plans in motion…
Plans for a return to the area took a backseat, however as other, more anticipated trips took precedence – the Mt. Olympus and The Frenchmans Cap group trips in particular.
Also, Tasmania’s notoriously fickle springtime weather that, in 2020 least, proved to be more “winter” than winter itself had been! This meant we were often swapping around plans at the last minute when the weekend’s forecast didn’t suit our original intentions.
It wasn’t until the updated Pandani walks program landed in my Inbox that Mt. Shakespeare thrust itself back into the picture. Ian was planning an overnight trip of both Mt. Shakespeare and Wylds Craig. We found Ian a genuinely fantastic trip leader on our Mt. Olympus trip, so I wasted no time signing us up for the mid-December trip.
As the date of the trip neared, unfortunately, Xing found herself in her usual pre-Christmas chaos mode with work and simply didn’t have the weekend to spare. Escaping the pre-Christmas chaos was exactly what I needed though, so this time I’d be flying solo with Chris, Ian, and another six members of Pandani.
A pleasant surprise…
Our basic plan was to walk in and summit Wylds Craig on the first day, then leave the main track and head to Lake Laurel by late afternoon, where we’d make camp overnight. The next morning we’d head off early to the summit of Mt. Shakespeare, before returning back to Lake Laurel, break camp, and walk out. The plan wasn’t too ambitious and – after months of disappointing us – the weather forecast was looking good too!
Access to Wylds Craig was as per our original post, with one pleasant exception: since our last visit, someone had cleared the trees and debris off Tiger Road, allowing access from the lower Florentine River bridge (just past Eden Creek) all the way up to the trailhead. This meant we could avoid the tedious road walk from the closed bridge further north. Fantastic!
By 10am we had ourselves prepped and ready to go from the trailhead. Later than ideal, but every drive into the Florentine Valley and its endless gravel roads seems to take longer than expected. Something to consider. Already the warmth of the morning was above us as we headed across the regenerating forestry coup and into the comfortable shade of the native forest.
As before, the climb up to Wylds Craig was steep but pleasant. Despite a few stops to keep the group together, we made the summit in a little over 4 hrs, to clear skies and magnificent views.
The real work begins…
We took a little time to enjoy the views. Not only of the sprawling parallel ridges of the Gordon, Denison, and Prince of Wales Ranges to our west, of course, but also taking note of our intended route across Goodwins Moor and around Cunninghams Knoll before dropping into the valley between Mt. Shakespeare and our current position.
After descending down to our backpacks at the base of the final climb, we plotted a north-westerly bearing, using the rocky outcrops as a visual guide. We set off across the plateau, making our way through low shrubs and pineapple grass, taking care to dodge the cushion plants and other softer alpine vegetation that respond poorly to a hiker’s boot.
Passing between the two visible rocky outcrops, we followed the easternmost ridge towards the north. Here the scrub was thicker, reaching to waist height in places. With some deft navigation and using elevation to our advantage, though, we avoided the worst of the Richea scoparia. As we made progress further north, we gazed westwards upon the endless vista of mountains. The Spires and those beyond, lost in the heat haze of increasingly warm afternoon.
We reached the saddle between Cunninghams Knoll and Darkes Peak in about an hour. The descent into Lake Laurel, sitting just below us, was all that remained. This north-east facing slope sports a much denser coverage of snow eucalypts, tea tree and head-high scrub than what we’d been walking through up until this point.
Sure enough, we were soon picking our way through it, with varying degrees of success. Plenty of pushing through vegetation ensued. Clear runs were brief. Gravity helped the process initially but as the slope flattened out we found ourselves pushing through tight bands of dense tee tree and cutting grass, attempting to connect patches of more open marsh.
Bring me to water…
The descent took the best part of an hour. I’ve had more testing times in dense bush, certainly, but by now the afternoon heat was really making its presence felt. Adding to my discomfort was the fact I now had to ration my remaining water supply; the route had been utterly dry since we’d crossed the unnamed creek halfway up Wylds Craig, a few good hours earlier. In hindsight, an extra litre of water would have been more than worth the weight.
Mercifully, the final few hundred metres opened up into very comfortable walking, and the reassuring gurgle of a flowing Glow Worm Creek could be heard. Taking our fill of the refreshingly cool water, we crossed over and onto the eastern side of Lake Laurel to set up camp. Day 1 complete!
Now, for some reason, I got into my head that tent sites at Lake Laurel might be limited. With a large-ish group of nine – and everyone in individual tents – space would likely be at a premium. Therefore, I dug out my old 3F UL CangQiong tent, a sub-800g ultralight, hiking pole-supported tent based (read: unashamed cheap Chinese copy) on the Big Sky Wisp “super bivvy”.
These tents were the darling of the ultralight-on-the-cheap scene a few years ago. At the time, my pockets weren’t deep enough to spend up on the new breed of super light solo DCF tents. This little $100 3F was my ticket to solo fastpacking adventures. It didn’t weigh much, and crucially, it fit in my Salomon S-Lab Peak 20 vest-pack. I didn’t get too many trips in before Xing and I met and started hiking together, but at the time, combining trail running with overnight adventures opened up a whole new world of possibility.
Anyway, the little 3F UL offered no weight savings over our now go-to summer tent – a Tarptent Double Rainbow Lithium – but it would take up a fraction of the space. I’ll have more options to find a usable, comfortable tent site – so my theory went anyway.
I needn’t have worried – there was all the space in the world. What there wasn’t, though, was low grass or bare earth, ideal to pitch a tent. Just lots of coral fern, soft but lumpy. It played havoc getting a decent pitch. These ultra-minimalist tents tend to require a careful and precise setup to maximise internal space and generally just get them to work correctly. What resulted would at least protect me from the bugs, but plans for a video review were quickly abandoned.
Instead, we all cooked up dinner over a communal slab of rock. With the evening sun setting Mt. Shakespeare’s summit alight in orange, we discussed tactics for the morning. Past trip reports focussed on the ridgeline to the north-west, but the idea that would present less tight scrub had never been proved – everyone we knew who’d tried had found it an utter bushbash. A fellow walker we met that evening, had attempted that very route earlier in the day (before turning back, due to lack of water) and confirmed as much.
Instead, we considered a direct attack, aiming for a larger section of boulders and scree just south of the summit. We wouldn’t end up in the thick stuff longer than necessary and, if we could make it to the scree, the going thereafter should be pretty decent. Made sense.
Aiming for an early 7am kick-off, we hit the hay early. I set up the Insta360 for the night in the hope of a lovely starry timelapse.
Early birds get the worm…
It was light and warm at 5am, so I was at no risk of sleeping in and missing our 7am set-off time. My quick-and-easy cold-rehydratable breakfast was barely edible, so its remains got bundled up with the rest of my unneeded gear. Lightened packs donned, the heat of the day was already apparent as our group set off east, Mt. Shakespeare looming large directly ahead.
Just east of Lake Laurel we could see across the short, shallow valley, separating us from Mt. Shakespeare’s heavily vegetated western flank. We descended with relative ease, with only a small band of tea-tree requiring some effort to weave through. This would prove a good warm-up for what was to come. I made a mental note of the deep flowing but partially hidden creek that ran through the bottom of the valley. No doubt we’d be wanting a top-up on our return; we were unlikely to find water further up the mountain, and I was already sweating from the heat beaming down relentlessly.
Finding a track, where there is no track…
Our climbing began in earnest soon thereafter, regularly alternating between chest-head high brush punctuated with snow gums, and tall pandani forest with boronia underfoot. In either case, it was simply a matter of picking the clearest route through roughly on our bearing. There was no lack of fallen timber to clamber over as we pushed our way up the slope, and our feet had to fight to keep clear of the entangling understory scrub.
The pandani and snow gum forests alternated several times before we could sense the scrub line lowering around our knees as we gained elevation. Our targeted scree field came into view. But of course, it couldn’t be that easy. Between us and clear rock lie a band of dense, tall scoparia. As typical, the only way around was through.
Popping out… or have we?
Slightly unpleasant but mercifully short-lived, we skirted through the worst of the scoparia until the foot of the scree field appeared. The bare, dry rock was a welcome reprieve from the bush-bashing, and we could now make fast and direct progress straight up towards the summit.
Initially steep, the route up the scree actually began to flatten out as we crested something of a gully just south of the summit area. The going was good and we could also enjoy uninterrupted views of our route back to the west.
All was going rather well, except that the boulders eventually ran out and gave way to more scrub. Mt. Shakespeare is one of those fairly unusual Abels that, instead of being a pile of boulders up top, sports a fair covering of vegetation. We weren’t quite out of the bush yet – figuratively and literally.
We continued to skirt south to avoid the vertical rows of large boulders that separated us from the summit less than 100m away, taking a fairly gentle route around as we picked our way through the gaps in scoparia and rock until we popped out on the broad and surprisingly flat summit plateau.
The final few dozen metres however were a mere formality once atop, as we closed in towards the rather tiny summit cairn, a little under 2hrs since leaving our camp at Lake Laurel. Success!
Over the past few years we’ve learned that Abels – and likely just mountains in general – fall roughly into two categories: peaks that look good, and peaks that are good for looking at other peaks. Mt. Shakespeare definitely falls into the latter category. Its broad and barren, shallow sloping eastern bank lessens the sense of height, and even the steeper western face will struggle to register vertigo in those exposure-sensitive souls. It feels just like a big hill, hardly befitting the effort required to get there.
Payback however comes in the form of a sweeping view of our full route to the west, across the lakes of Laurel and Daphne neatly nestled in their alpine bowls. Wyld Craig‘s distinctive profile rises towards the south, behind which the rows of parallel ridgelines can be seen beyond.
The view from the south around to the east is mostly devoid of peaks, save of course for Mt. Lord and Mt. Field West to our near-south, as the view down the Derwent Valley was quickly lost in the heat haze. Similarly, most of the peaks to our north were quite distant, but as always seems to be the case I could make out the distinctive curved, white top of Frenchmans Cap.
Down and out…
Of course, what was most prominent from the summit was the path we’d all taken to get here, and now pressingly, the walk we’d have to take to get back out. Back down to Lake Daphne, back up to the Wylds Craig track – emphasis on ‘up’ – and then back down to the trailhead and our cars. It was now mid-morning, the sun was really letting us know that summer had arrived, and we had a good bit of distance to cover. Better make a start!
The return to Lake Laurel was unproblematic, simply following our path up with gravity now assisting for the majority. I made the most of the small creek as we crossed over, taking my fill of cool water to combat the warmth. An hour and a half later we arrived back at camp and downed lunch quickly as the last couple of tents were duly packed away. We took our last fill of water for the next few hours, crossed Glow Worm Creek, and braced ourselves for the climb back out.
The trip out followed our route in the afternoon before, but by tending a little further to the south-east – all of 20-30m – for the initial climb back to Cunninghams Knoll, we managed to avoid the worst of the thicker scrub we’d encountered on the descent in. Generally, we had a better time of it during the climb out, taking a bit over an hour to reach the saddle. Just as well, as now the heat was bearing down without mercy and starting to take its toll on the group.
It was a tough and rather tedious walk back to the Wylds Craig track, thanks to the heat and gentle, continuous climb. A few members of our group were definitely feeling worse for wear by the time the formal track reappeared. It was a welcome relief to drop off the exposed plateau soon thereafter and into the shade of the forest. It would be almost 6:30pm by the time we got back to the cars, making for a long but ultimately successful day!
A special thanks to Ian from Pandani Walking Club for organising yet another awesome overnight adventure!