Today we faced the infamous Tilted Chasm and Beggary Bumps. With a long, hot Day 4 from Square Lake to High Moor behind us, these new challenges for Day 5 of our Western Arthurs adventure were bound to test us.
This was the day that I had been most nervous about the entire trip. It was the day that I had put it out to the weather gods for dry weather. Well, the weather gods completely screwed us over and the heavens opened. In one respect, maybe, it was a godsend. After all, if you can’t actually see the drops, they are safer – right?
22nd January 2021
High Moor to Haven Lake
Distance: Approximately 5km according Chapman’s notes. Our GPS watches each recorded nearly twice that due to the slow progress and GPS creep.
Time taken: Approximately 7.5 hours. Although the distance covered was short, the rugged terrain and endlessly sharp climbs – both up and down – made for very slow going, as did the rain and wet terrain/rock.
Difficulty: Properly difficult. This is the most technically difficult section of the track on the Western Arthurs, and likely one of the most challenging officially “routed” walks you’re likely to find in Tasmania.
Expect hours of endless elevation gain and drop, serious scrambling and climbing over rock and rooted vegetation, all while carrying your full pack. Some hikers will prefer to use a rope or webbing to pack-haul and potentially as a confidence line when climbing down certain drops. Sections of the route also have considerable exposure to contend with.
While the pad in this area is mostly obvious, it is unmarked and thus strong navigational skills are also a must to maintain the route, especially in bad weather.
Type of track: The mostly unimproved route passes over loamy/muddy soil, lots of worn vegetation and sections of rock and shale. Expect the definition of a “track” to be severely tested in some areas, as it literally drops away under your feet!
No putting off the inevitable.
Our evening at High Moor had been long and anything but restful. Platform space was at a premium at High Moor Camp, and so to maximise the number of tents that could fit on each platform, we had pitched our tent with the broad side into the wind. The weather man was forecasting 60+ knot winds and even though we had attached extra guys lines, the tent was pummeled overnight! It was with tired eyes and legs that I stepped out of the tent the next morning. That and a queasy tummy knowing we had Tilted Chasm and the Beggary Bumps just around the corner!
Chris and I set off a few minutes earlier than the others as they were off exploring the nearby Mt. Columbia. Chris feels the same way as I do about heights and exposure – ie. poorly – so I think he was eager to get into it too. Or get it over with – one or the other! Leaving camp we climbed up onto the ridgeline briefly before we were carefully picking our way down our first descent. The rock beneath our feet was wet from overnight rain and the morning mist. It was not yet raining again, but you could sense rain in the air. Great! 🙁
Like a crab.
To this point of the journey, I had been proud of my ability to tackle the drops, cliffs, climbs and exposure the Western Arthurs had constantly thrown at me. I reminded myself that slow and careful was the way to go. Yes, it was wet and slippery now, but that just meant more care and attention was needed. I slowly crept down the initial rocky descent. Bum sliding at times, other times I was like a crab, arms and legs outstretched, wriggling down. Chris had at this stage decided to wait for the others, but I was comfortable with my mixture of forward and backward climbing – and crab crawling – to continue on. The others were only a few minutes behind anyway.
Step by step, hand by hand, I made my way down to the first flat section of track where I could await the others. Whilst it was flat, it was typically narrow – very narrow. A slight backwards or side step, and one would be tumbling off the edge into the gully deep below. It’s best not to look down in these situations, I told myself. In turn, each of us reached the narrow pad below. Rain was now wetting the slippery rock further, and the wind was howling above. From sweltering yesterday to freezing today, the Western Arthurs were standing up to their reputation of unpredictable weather!
It’s a bit dodgy…
Here’s the thing: I normally love walking in the cold and wet. I overheat so easily that the wet, cold weather would generally have been a blessing to me! But the slippery slide that is the Tilted Chasm really didn’t need anymore degrees of difficulty added! Still, we had to make it there first. Contouring around a small knoll, we pressed on. The track was so narrow that at times we had to face inwards to be able to stay on it, madly grabbing onto any bit of vegetation to feel secure! I momentarily ignored my “don’t look down” rule to my detriment, as I discovered other than a few tree roots there was no actual “track” under my feet. Even Grahame and Bender mentioned some spots were “a bit dodgy”!
Ahead of us, rock formations rose out of the mist like creepy little onlookers. Watching us go up and down, sometimes on our feet, sometimes on our backsides, each bum slide bringing us closer to Tilted Chasm. I was feeling on edge. It’s weird to describe, but whilst I was enjoying the trip and every challenge, those same challenges meant my stress responses were elevated constantly. A perpetually heightened sense of alertness is wearying. Around the creepy rock onlookers we went, and finally we arrived at Tilted Chasm.
Tears, tension and Tilted Chasms.
Looking straight down the wet, slippery rocky void that was Tilted Chasm did nothing to settle my nerves. Watching Grahame negotiating the tricky descent was also doing nothing for my nerves, nor was listening to Simon and Ben chat about whether to use the rope to lower our packs. Standing, waiting in the rain whilst the boys lowered our packs down was just the perfect amount of time for me to become completely overwhelmed! Seeing the packs bump and jolt down, I wondered might that be me if I lose my footing on the now properly wet shale? As much as I tried to hold it together, I failed miserably and burst into tears!
Simon – being the most fabulous gentleman that he is – instantly reassured me that everything was fine and that he could use the rope, slings and carabiners Bender had bought along, to safely lower me past the initial ledge on the Tilted Chasm that was intimidating me. I really didn’t want Ben and Simon to go to extra trouble for me, but they both reassured me that it was no trouble (I’d carried all the gear in, no point in not using it! – Bender) and Chris would use the sling too, so I eagerly agreed!
In hindsight, could I have done it without the rope? Yes. But the security of the rope around me gave me the confidence I needed in that moment. Once past the ledge I released the sling and sent it back up to Simon, so Chris could follow suit.
It’s worth mentioning to take lots of care when making your way down the shale-filled gully, especially around other people. As Bender made his way down to Grahame and I he inadvertently displaced a rock… which knocked another, bigger rock that started rolling down the gully towards us. “Rock! Rock! ROOOOOCKKK!” he roared in warning, more than a little panicked, as the sizable rock tumbled down the Chasm. Thankfully it veered harmlessly away from us, but it was a stark reminder to maintain plenty of distance between yourself and others in your group through these sorts of rocky sections, just in case things shift underneath you.
Happy dancing that the Tilted Chasm, was behind us it was time for the Beggary Bumps. The Beggary Bumps are a series of steep, rocky outcrops that you must go over, around, up and down on your way to Haven Lake. We would continue along the Dragon’s Spine – a mystical name for what is the ridge walk near The Dragon, a 1006m peak (climbing not recommended) on the Western Arthurs heading north. Whilst the Beggary Bumps appeared intimidating peaking through the mist, they really were a walk in the park compared to Tilted Chasm.
Occasional cairns led the way over sections of rock without a clear pad. The rain had increased and the wind was swirling around us, but I didn’t care. I was still riding the high of knowing that for today the exposure would get no worse! Our priority at this time was to find as sheltered a spot as possible to eat some morning tea and recharge our batteries before pushing on. The most shelter we could find was using the rock as a shield and just eating right on track!
When miserable becomes misery at the hands of High Moor water.
Refuelled and recharged, our crew set off once more. It was around this time that we passed four young people also breaking for morning tea. Unfortunately one of them was worse for wear already, thanks to an upset stomach – a result of High Moor water. I really felt for him. The Western Arthurs is both physically and mentally taxing when you are at your best. Add a bout of diarrhea and it has got to make it a pretty miserable affair!
Snaking and weaving, climbing and descending, we pushed on towards Haven Lake. Although still incredibly steep, the length of the climbs and drops around the Beggary Bumps were shorter than previous days. Progress is slow in the Western Arthurs due to the terrain, and the constant climbing and descending, so we certainly weren’t breaking any land speed records. But that was OK; I might only visit the Western Arthurs once in my lifetime and I certainly wasn’t going to rush the experience. I wanted to soak it all in.
The combination of the Beggary Bumps and the scrub shielded us from the onslaught of the weather. My coat’s hood was stuck in a perpetual Groundhog Day – on, off, on, off. I am not sure the others were enjoying the miserable weather as much as I was! (It wasn’t too bad… despite the persistent drizzle and at times strong wind, it wasn’t terribly cold – Bender) Although I was enjoying the cold snap, the mist was stealing the views from us. That just meant I got to concentrate on the view right in front of me, like the amazing vegetation that survives such hostile weather. It doesn’t just survive but thrives.
The sun would occasionally battle the wind and rain gods and shine short moments of warmth on us, before it would get covered again by grey clouds and stormy skies. Most of us took our wet weather pants off at one stage, only to have to put them back on less than an hour later! We were now only a few kilometres from Haven Lake, but it was not yet visible.
Lovers Leap… now less leap, more sidle!
After Tilted Chasm, even the few exposed sections heading into Haven Lake didn’t bother me. I’d had my cry and felt better for it. I certainly believe that a good cry is a great way to release built up stress and tension. It clears the mind and makes you feel just plain better. Even crossing Lovers Leap (you go across and round it these days – you used to jump off it!) didn’t phase me. However, it would be Jess’ turn shortly for an emotional release.
At last the last Beggary Bump was behind us. If the Dragon’s Spine was nice to get off, then the Stegosaurus-like back of the the Beggary Bumps was even nicer! It was time to make our final descent to Haven Lake. Before reaching the relative comfort of the final ridge walk, we had just one final obstacle.
Two huge rock formations stand guard at the junction where you begin your descent to Haven Lake. Perhaps at one point in time it was one giant rock. With no way around either of these rocks we needed to climb down, in between the large crevasse in the middle to reach a tree stump which would get our feet on firm ground once more.
Hugs all round.
I aced this, as awkward frontwards, spread-eagled climbing is my specialty 😛 It was like performing a wide star jump all the way along. Using my palms outstretched to keep me locked into the crevasse and my legs spread wide, I inched down to Grahame and then scrambled down the tree. My “don’t look down” rule was working great. Not so for Jess.
Reaching her turn on the open slit, Jess had her moment of tension release. I had never seen her waiver even momentarily on the trip thus far, so to see her burst into tears was testament to the trials we had all faced in one way or another on the trip. With Simon encouraging her from the top, and Ben helping her with hand and foot placement below, she slowly but surely made it down to a big hug from me – sometimes a good cry and a big hug are what you need in the world!
The yellow brick road to Haven Lake.
From this point onwards, extending out below us was a virtual yellow brick road to home. Well, our home for the night – Haven Lake. Whilst we still had some ground to cover, it was going to be a relative stroll compared to what we had overcome so far. Our spirits lifted for we would soon be at camp, tents pitched and a hot cuppa brewing. If only Haven Lake was actually a haven for weary travellers…
Dreams of pitching the tent and a hot cuppa were very quickly dashed on arrival to Haven Lake. There are only three, decidedly small platforms at Haven lake, and every single one of them was being used 🙁 Not optimally either, to be honest. We are more than happy to camp on the grass but alas Haven lake does not even offer that. Whilst Chris and John were able to just squeeze their very small one man tents onto the very edges of two platforms, the rest of us began a search for a suitable spot to pitch in the surrounding scrub.
A few of the crew squeezed (and I mean just squeezed) into awkward spots near the lake’s outflow. Bender and I managed to park ours over a part mud, part rocky area, using our trekking poles to convert the Tarptent into freestanding mode and help it hold its geometry without decent peg holds. With a storm blowing in, it was less than ideal but we tied it down to just about everything we could!
The Western Arthurs – The Great Equalizers.
It was much, much later that the youngsters we had passed earlier stumbled tiredly into camp and went through the same ordeal of trying to find anywhere suitable to pitch a tent. They ended up settling with a quite frankly lousy spot near us, and did well to actually get any kind of pitch. I offered them a cup of hot soup and some Imodium tablets while they got set up.
I am sure when they first saw our group of “oldies” (excluding Jess) a day earlier they might have thought “OMG – how will they do it?!” But here is the thing – the Western Arthurs are a great equaliser. Age and experience can trump youth and energy in a place like this. Lucky for us our group had both age and experience combined with youthful and energetic souls. Our second last night on trail was to be yet another stormy night, but we would wake to clear skies for the next day’s adventure.