Bender & Xing

Abel Adventures

Western Arthurs Day 6

Waking on Day 6 of our Western Arthurs adventure bought with it the promise of nicer weather. We planned on being on track early, as we all wanted to climb Mt. Aldebaran and Mt. Scorpio – our final Abels of the trip – before making camp at Wullyawa Creek. Even with a short cut off Morraine K, today promised to be a big walk. Our long day was intensely rewarding though. Standing on Mt. Scorpio before dropping off the range allowed us to see the ridgeline in all its glory. We had come an awful long way, over a lot of pointy things!

Day 6
23rd January 2021
Haven Lake to Wullyawa Creek
Additional climbs – Mt. Aldebaran and Mt. Scorpio

Looking east from Morraine K across to Lakes Juno and Promontory, West Portal and the Eastern Arthurs.

Distance: Approximately 11.7km, including side trips to Mt. Aldebaran and Mt. Scorpio.

Time taken: Just under 9 hours. Although the distance covered was short, the rugged terrain and endlessly sharp climbs (up and down) made for very slow going, as did the heat intensifying in the latter parts of the day in the Arthur Plains.

Difficulty: Difficult. This walk should only be undertaken by experienced hikers confident in negotiating varying degrees of exposure/heights, rough terrain and are in good physical shape to cope with such ground carrying a heavy pack. While the pad in this area is mostly obvious, it is unmarked, and thus strong navigational skills are also a must.
 
Type of track: Haven Lake to Morraine K is tracked. Some light pads and cairns lead towards the side trips of Mt. Scorpio and Mt Aldebaran. The shortcut from Morraine K across the Arthur Plains to near Wullyawa Creek was untracked so strong navigational skills are needed until you reach McKays Track again.

Looking down towards Haven Lake from the climb out.
Climbing out of Haven Lake with the haggard profile of Mt. Taurus behind.
The Haven Lake track leading up towards the saddle.

Having not slept again the night before for fear of the tent flying away quicker than Aladdin’s Carpet, I was up early and packed well before the 8am kick off time. I left Ben waiting for the others and started the climb out of Haven Lake early so I could get some shots of the others down below. We would be leaving our big packs at the small saddle at the top of the climb out. Chapman’s book claims it is about two hours each way for Mt Aldebaran – fortunately it took us considerably less than that.

Mt. Aldebaran

Looking towards the first high point we would need to scale to head to Mt Aldebaran which lies behind it.
Following the faint lead in the scrub to the rock slab.
Scaling the rock slab.
Easy rock climbing compared to the last few days!

Gladly dropping our big packs we changed over to summit packs and surveyed the possible route forward. The rough plan was from the saddle above Haven Lake, we would head southeast towards a 950m high point, over the top of that, and drop into the next saddle. Climb from there up to the next 1050m high point, drop briefly, and then climb to the summit of Mt. Aldebaran. We certainly were not expecting a cairned route with a (mostly) well trodden pad! It was a delightful surprise.

Descending the 950m high point before climbing again.
Simon on the 950m high point.
Briefly back into scrub.
The climb to the high point in front of the Mt Aldebaran summit begins.

A pad left from the saddle where we dropped our packs towards a rocky slab in the low vegetation. A scout around indicated that the slab needed climbing and we would pick the trail up again at the top. Whilst it looked tricky it was a simple enough matter to climb it. Back on the pad, we followed it to the 950m high point. This new vantage point gave us uninterrupted views ahead of the sloping bulk of Mt. Aldebaran. The summit was not yet visible, as it lay beyond to the south east.

Using the pad to avoid the worst of the vegetation.
Patches of rock making travel quicker and easier.
Looking East towards Mt. Scorpio – the final target.

Navigation had been easy thus far. Where we might momentarily lose the pad, we would pick it up quite quickly due to the odd cairn popping its head out in the near-distance. The route roughly followed the rocky spine of Mt Aldebaran, but at times we would need to skirt small amounts of vegetation. As we climbed higher the views to our east and Mt .Scorpio began to reveal themselves. That was our target for later in the day, and looked some distance away!

The final push upwards.
One of the many cairns making route finding much easier than we had anticipated.
In typical fashion, the summit is always behind the next high point!

The summit is nearly always the furthest high point away and Mt. Aldebaran was no exception. It was as if it was teasing us by appearing further away the closer we got! We were genuinely surprised and pleased with the ease of the climb though and it was in just under 30 minutes that our fingers touched the summit cairn. WOW – the views were breathtaking!

Photo spam warning.

Forgive the following photo spam but really this is what its all about. The hard work and the challenges. The tiredness and the tears. It’s all for moments of reflection sitting high above the clouds. Life does not get much better.

Survival.
Simon approaching the summit, with our route, Mt. Taurus (R) and the bulk of the Western Arthurs (L) behind.
Simon looking across to Mt. Scorpio – touched by some passing low cloud – and Carina Peak.
Same view east, looking down at Lake Mars.
Looking north-west back towards our route.
Looking west across the Western Arthurs, and all we’d traversed in the past days.
Simon and Jess chuffed to put another peak in the bag.

There were eye-to-eye grins all around, as we sat in the sun eating our morning tea at the finest restaurant in the world. Making great time to the summit meant we also got to spend that extra time there just immersing ourselves in the views on offer in every direction. Alas, all good things come to an end – Mt. Scorpio looked a long way away. It was time to retrace our steps back to our packs and continue our traverse of the range.

To Scorpio and beyond.

Working our way through the last of the tenuous climbs.
A strikingly distorted (and likely much photographed) Pencil pine along the route. Incredible the think this tree could be hundreds if not over a thousand years old. The stories it could tell…

My big pack felt heavy as I strapped it on once again, and already I could feel the sun heating up the rock and scrub. I was hoping the slight breeze blowing would pick up, and offer some respite from what was going to be a very warm day. Moments after lifting our big packs on we were again on track heading north. An ancient Pencil Pine weathered on one side and vibrant on the other was a visual representation of the extremes of weather that the Western Arthurs offers those that travel through them.

Looking back at Mt. Alderbaran.
Cresting above Mt. Taurus and Haven Lake.
Flatter walking was most welcome!
Open, easy ridgeline walking as we made our way up to Mt. Scorpio.

The walking from this point forwards actually resembled bushwalking, for what seemed like the first time since Lake Cygnus! Whilst still undulating the terrain was open now and we could stride our legs out. How lovely it felt! According to my map we would have a substantial drop in elevation before Mt. Scorpio, but for now I was loving – and I mean loving – the walking!

A very sudden drop down to Lake Sirona. Mt. Scorpio lies just beyond.
More climbing down!
…and still more!
Save for a few ledges, the drop was sudden and unending.

With Mt. Scorpio rising in the distance to our northeast, and the tantalisingly cold and refreshing Lake Sirona below our feet, we began climbing downwards again. I was happily tackling this slightly more technical descent, as I figured anything was better than Tilted Chasm – and I was eager to refill my water bottles! Grahame, Ben and I were the first to arrive at what initially appeared to be a large and impassable rock ledge. Cairns led directly off the edge of it in both directions! One direction was a flat-out no, and the other direction wasn’t much better!

After much deliberation Grahame, Ben and I managed to scale down one side of the rock cliff, but it was awkward and more than a little dodgy! John followed using a slightly different path but Chris, Jess and Simon – along with our young friends, who’d caught up by this stage – opted to use a lead through the scrub and contour around the slab, which was probably, ok definitely, the more sensible option.

Some of younger crew following the more sensible option down to Lake Sirona.

Number 100 for Chris.

Greedily slurping our fill of ice-cold water at the lake we were now within cooee of Mt Scorpio – its famous slanted summit rock calling to us. The degree of the slope was a little intimidating, but Simon had mentioned earlier that there was a route to the summit from the rear instead. Yes, please!

Approach to Mt. Scorpio.
Grahame contemplating our final peak with Lake Pedder off in the distance.
The impressively flat, sloping slab of rock that makes up Mt. Scorpio’s southern profile.
The track routes through behind the western side of the mountain… no need to scale the very exposed rock slab.

Simon was right of course. Although the pad seemed to be leading up to the slanted rock face of Mt. Scorpio, it actually ducked behind it. After following the pad for a few minutes until we were almost level with the summit high point, we decided to drop our packs and summit before lunch. It would take literally only minutes to get to the summit via a series of pads and nice sized rock to scramble.

The main Western Arthurs route passes to the west of Mt. Scorpio’s summit.
Leaving the route for the short scramble up to the summit of Mt. Scorpio.
Looking east from the summit, across to West Portal – the sixth Abel that would have to wait for another day.
The cramped summit – a little too cramped, judging by Chris’ expression.

Celebration time.

Not only were we now all standing on Mt. Scorpio, but it was Chris’s 100th Abel – congratulations mate, and what a peak to mark 100! It was a mighty fine day to be up high, that’s for sure!

Xing looking out to Federation Peak and Precipitous Bluff.
Bender at the southern point of the summit.
The crew on our 5th Abel for the trip!
Summit cairn looking northwest over Lake Pedder.

As I sat on Mt. Scorpio I reflected on the challenges and triumphs of the last six days. Our journey was beginning to turn the corner from outward adventure to homeward voyage. I had mixed feelings. I was exhausted physically and mentally, but I was enriched from being immersed in the Arthurs. We still had many, many hours ahead of us before we would reach camp for the night. But for the next few moments, it was all about the company and the mountains.

The long drop.

The descent down Moraine K. Note the considerable and obvious fire damage visible.
Xing all smiles as it’s all (literally) downhill from here.
Steadily losing elevation.
Promontory Lake and the Eastern Arthurs.

Morraine K was waiting. It would be the very last steep descent that we would do and it would lead us down and off the Western Arthur range. A short section of it promised to be very steep indeed, as we would drop around 200m of elevation over less than 300m of distance! Poles at the ready we descended steadily to the lower echelons of Morraine K. Burnt remnants of the 2019 fires reminded us of just how fragile this place really is. Even now, some tracks remain closed allowing for rehabilitation to take place.

Life renewing.

A lone flower blooms amongst the scorched vegetation.
After two years rejuvenation of the damaged areas is slow.
Looking back up Moraine K through the dead brush.

Bright and vibrant flowers rising up from the charred ground were a wonderful thing to see. The evidence that one day – a long time from now – this delicate place might one day return to its former splendour was reassuring. Maybe not in my lifetime, but perhaps in that of my children or grandchildren.

Still descending – albeit now at a gentler rate – towards Arthur Plains and McKays Track
Taking the “shortcut” across fire-damaged lower reaches of Moraine K.
A very happy Simon, with the worst of Moraine K behind him.

Instead of continuing down the full length of Moraine K until the usual Seven Mile Creek campsite, our group had decided to take an informal, off-track route north-west to rejoin McKays Track before Wullyawa Creek. It would cut out a few unnecessary kilometres and shorten up our walk out the next day. We feared that Seven Mile Creek camp could be as overwhelmed as Haven Lake had been the night before. John had a GPS route of the shortcut that would allow us to navigate back onto the track at some stage.

The long, long, long and hot, hot, hot road to camp!

Looking south up Moraine K through the patchy regrowth of the fire-affected Arthur Plains.
A scrubby creek crossing that broke up the otherwise open walking of our shortcut.
The Arthur Plains are open, easy walking… but hot work on a warm day.
Brief bit of route finding through some denser scrub.

The “shortcut” we were taking meant that we would be off-track for at least part of the way to camp. Occasional patches of scrub made the hot work hotter, as did what seemed like endless amounts of button grass. The grass held the afternoon heat and I felt like I was walking through a blistering desert. We didn’t have the lovely cool alpine air of the higher mountains we’d grown accustomed to the past week, and I began to really suffer from the heat. My mouth was dry no matter how much water I drank, and I was starting to feel quite dizzy. As the others crested a small hill I dropped my pack and applied a couple of cooling gel patches to my neck and chest. The relief was instant and pure bliss!

Just when you think it’s all too hard.

The top-up of fresh, cool water was most welcome!
Walking across the rather stark Arthur Plains.
There’s definitely a country song in this photograph.

Eventually, the McKays track finally appeared under our feet and the walking became easier. Whilst still an incredibly hot trudge in the hot afternoon sun, we now had a pad to follow and were no longer walking through the button grass clumps. My knees rejoiced! It was a matter of just keeping the rhythm of step by step to the creek.

Heaven and a feast.

The shade, shelter and water of Wullyawa Creek.
Happy to drop these heavy sacks after another long day of toil.
Making the most of a lovely sheltered campsite.
Our last supper on the Western Arthurs.

Reaching Wullyawa Creek was a relief. It was shady, cool, and tranquil. The water was crisp, clear, and refreshing. The campsites were small but everyone had room and after two very breezy nights, we wouldn’t have to worry about being blown away.

A junior Huon pine tree hid in amongst the other trees and soft green mosses lined everything. Tonight we would feast too! As it was our last night on trail, we were all eager to eat as much as possible to save carrying it out the next day. Dinner with multiple deserts and chocolate all around. The conversation of what we would eat tomorrow at the Possum Shed Cafe consumed us. It seems the consensus was on how good hot chips would taste! But soon enough it was time for the best night’s sleep yet. Ah, the serenity.

Route taken from Haven Lake to Wullyawa Creek.

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