Firstly, dear reader, let us promptly destroy any hopes that one might be able to simply “pop” over to Sedgwick, and be back to camp at Lake Tyndall in around 6 hours as described in The Abels! Even our bushwalking idol RockMonkey found it a solid 9 hour trek – and she is the fittest, fastest and gutsiest bushwalker we know! We anticipated we would be walking for a solid 11-12 hours – literally dawn to dusk – and we weren’t wrong. Oh, and ”walking” is not quite the word to use. There was walking, but there was also copious amounts of sliding, climbing, bush-bashing, sinking deep into thick vegetation and general cursing! Mostly though, amongst all of that, there was absolute awe and wonder, at what we could see and where we stood.
Date: 7th March 2021 Summit: 1146m
Distance: Approximately 18km from our campsite just south of Lake Tyndall.
Time taken: About 12 hours return (allowing for photos, videos and several short rest stops).
Difficulty: Difficult. This off track walk covers several kilometres of elevated alpine ridgelines completely exposed to the Tasmanian west coast’s unpredictable weather, and passes through many steep, rocky gullies. It should only be undertaken in good weather by experienced hikers confident in off track navigation, and negotiating cliffs and thick scrub.
Type of track: Tracked to Lake Tyndall, untracked from there. A handful of rock cairns mark the major gully access points along the almost-9km route, but shouldn’t be relied on for navigation.
Access from: Anthony Road.
We knew we would likely be walking all day, so we were on foot and leaving the tent behind at 7am sharp. A fellow walker Vivienne (whom we know and ran into the day before) had accepted our invitation to join us for our Mt. Sedgwick adventure – not sure she will ever walk with us again! Early semi-dark starts have their advantages; as we were walking south sou-east, the sun was rising to our east and backlit the skyline beautifully with every hue of orange and yellow. It was eerily quiet, save our footsteps crunching on the alpine grasses beneath our boots.
The easy bit for the day.
An alpine plateau littered with rock outcrops, pineapple grass and cushion plant of every variety led us along the same lead that we’d begun our Mt. Geikie trek previously. It was easy walking and quite delightful. Bender and I had looked across to Mt. Sedgwick from the summit of Mt. Geikie the day prior, and both commented that it looked an awful long way away! We had multiple GPX files loaded onto our various navigation devices, and a paper map and compass each stored in our packs as a backup should modern technology fail us. Having no personal knowledge of this area, we decided to make the most of the GPS routes, waypoints and suggestions friends has generously shared with us. We would make a few small changes along the way, but for the most part follow in their footsteps.
Time for the first taste of scrub.
When standing on the edge of the alpine plateau and looking across to Mt. Sedgwick, two things are obvious, but only one of them is true. Mt. Sedgwick appears to be a long way away: this is true. Indeed, by some strange quirk, the closer you get to it the further away it gets, or so it seems! And, it appears that it is a simple affair of riding the connecting ridges to get there. Nope – this isn’t true at all. Whilst one ridge dominates your view from the alpine plateau, what you don’t see are the many small ridges and deep connecting gullies that too must be negotiated to get there.
Descending down off the plateau, we picked through as much easy pineapple grass and rock that we could. The low lying grases very quickly gave way to slightly thicker vegetation, but for the moment was only mid-calf height, so nothing troublesome. We were now bearing more easterly, in a zig zagging fashion to avoid the thicker bands of scrub. The goal was the somewhat clear looking ridge curving to our southeast. If we could get to that, the walking would be easier, for a while at least. But between here and there lay bands of dense scrub and rocky drops.
I’ve never been a “contourer”.
Many years ago we did a walk with a local walking club and were frustrated at the amount of “contouring” that was done that day. Bender and I have a bad habit of going “straight up the guts” of things to save time and energy and simplify navigation, but with Mt. Sedgwick I was more than happy to contour and take the path of least resistance! The somewhat dense scrub bash down the final drop off the plateau led us to a very small water tributary to cross, before we were given a choice. Go around the large knoll in front of us, or straight up and over it. Up and over involved scrub bashing, so we instead stuck closely to its rocky base and followed it around. The hunch paid off, as we contoured around it in no time.
Cold water – nectar of the gods!
Rounding the knoll, we were met with – you guessed it – another plot of fairly thick bauera to push through. Sunlight was now warming the morning and promising plenty of heat as the day wore on. The hard work getting to the ridge was worth it, for it now provided us with some clear and easy walking for a couple of kilometres. With mostly rock and very low alpine heath beneath our feet, we could instead use our energy to feast our eyes on our surrounds. To our west, Lake Martha shimmered below in the morning sun. To our east the substantial bulk of Eldon Peak rose and dominated the skyline. Cool water from a nearby tarn refilled our water bottles.
We were enjoying the lovely walking and views on offer. Mt. Geikie’s protruding buttresses reached like fingers towards us, and from this view and we could see its trig point. So lovely was this section that we probably enjoyed it a little too much; taking photos, filming and chatting away. Our pace became leisurely, even though Mt. Sedgwick looked further away than when we had started! But bushwalking – for us anyway – isn’t about rushing. It is about immersion. As The Abels says – “When climbing an Abel, treasure every step of the way. Take in all the sights, sounds, aromas of the flowers, the tiny fungi… for you may never pass this way again”.
All good things must come to an end.
If Mt. Sedgwick was easy, everyone would visit it. But its not easy and all good things must come to an end. Our “yellow brick road” (my term for easy walking) didn’t last nearly long enough! Nearing the edge of our ridge, our glorious views gave way to impending doom. Bummer. Ahead we could see for the first time the series of many smaller ridges we would need to climb up and down to get to the base of Mt. Sedgwick. Each ridge was a lumpy mix of dense, scrubby gullies and big conglomerate boulders. The GPS routes gave us ideas as to where best to drop off the ridge into a gully or which side to pass a knoll, but really, it was very much a “choose your own adventure” type of day. I managed to find a cairn for the first time, staking out one such access point, but it was a lonesome loser – it had no other cairn friends. Total random.
The time consuming part of our trip was upon us. The countless short climbs and descents were slow work. The continual picking through head-high bands of scrub, then bum sliding down small conglomerate outcrops was tiring and repetitive. The scrub bands were broken only by soggy button grass sections. Bender, ever the rock hopper, would scale down the large boulders, whereas Viv and I preferred the scrub. Although thickish scrub surrounded the tributaries flowing from both Nectar and Shrouded Lakes, our path allowed for easy crossing. We were pleasantly surprised at the abundance of flowing water along the way, a mark of 2020-2021’s La Nina summer perhaps, but we would not recommend heading this far without plenty of water, just in case.
Reading the land.
After the creek crossing, conglomerate rock and button grass became the order of the day that would lead us to the next high point and reveal our path forwards. Clear weather is very necessary for safe navigation to Mt. Sedgwick. Even with GPS a significant amount of the traverse must be gauged visually, particularly in the gullies where the accuracy of electronic navigation suffers considerably. No more than half a dozen cairns mark the 9km route, and only two of them actually provided any meaningful direction!
The large cairn on a slab of rock above the gully that Clark Creek runs through indicated we were in the right spot. We could actually hear the water crashing below us from our elevated position. A friend who has previously completed this climb last winter (not recommended) said he “birthed himself like a hippo” through the thick vegetation when crossing this creek. By the sheer noise of the rushing water, we were rather concerned it might hinder our attempt to reach Mt. Sedgwick today.
With the mental image of birthing hippos playing in my mind (!) we dropped off the rock and began climbing the lightly-vegetated rise across the small gully. Gaining just enough elevation to skirt the worst scrub, we turned southerly and pushed through the now head-high and taller bush, trying to find a suitable location to cross the narrow but very fast flowing creek. I had thought initially we might need to spend time hunting up and down for a safe crossing point, but we somehow popped out of the scrub at a very convenient spot with just enough clear space. It was quite narrow but with enough fallen timber to assist us across with dry feet, we were soon on the other side! Happy dance! Albeit a very short lived happy dance…
Clawing up the scrub.
Sometimes bushwalking is literally crawling up a hill so steep, you have to use your hands to grab hold of any bit of scrub you can, to haul your body up. Climbing out of the creek on the other side was exactly like this. I love a little bit of this torture. Grunting and grabbing handfuls of whatever we could, we aimed towards some rock ledges we had spied from below. They would act as our next bridge up onto the last ridge we would stay on until the base of Mt. Sedgwick. Although this final ridge was mostly button grass, there were enough sections of rock slab that travel was quicker.
What turn-around time??
Looking ahead, we knew we still had a lot of ground to cover. Even though we had almost reached Mt. Sedgwick’s scrubby base, we still had to actually climb it too! We briefly discussed our turnaround time of 2pm, but we were all in agreement that, as fine as the views had been thus far, none of us were coming back here in a hurry! If that meant returning by head torch, so be it.
I should add, we were all equipped with plenty of food, warm and weather proof layers, head torches, first aid kits and emergency bivvy bags, so were more than comfortable with our decision to extend our turn around time if need be.
Calculating. Always calculating.
Every step so far had been taken with much deliberation. Even with our GPSs and digital routes, we had to constantly read the terrain to find the most sensible passage up, down, over, around or through. Our summit attempt would be no different. We used the time zig-zagging across to its scrubby base, to plan a path upwards. We could see the rocky dolerite spine running almost three quarters of the length of its northern ridge. There was our next yellow brick road! Between it and us lay dense cutting grass, bauera, pandani and other head high scrub, all on an extremely steep slope. The joys!
The actual climb.
Hearing running water, we were equal parts surprised and delighted to see a series of small waterfalls running down over terraced rock ledges. What a wonderfully convenient place for icy cold, refreshing water! We drank our fill before topping up all our water reservoirs. It was obvious that it was going to be hot work getting to the summit, and seemed unlikely we’d come across any further water between here and the summit.
Crossing the waterfall area we entered the cutting grass and a world of scrubby suffering! With Bender and I taking turns leading, we pushed upwards through the thick vegetation. Cutting grass quickly tangled around our feet and would trip us over if we didn’t step high enough. Bauera is generally easy enough to push through and I don’t mind it so much. Indeed, I felt it helped us up the very steep ridge, giving us handfuls of spindly, soft shrubbery, firmly rooted into the ground, to grab and haul ourselves upwards.
Up and up we dragged ourselves, constantly seeking any break in the mountain’s extensive armour. Faint natural pads – likely natural drains/waterways – occasionally showed themselves, allowing a brief reprieve, before vanishing again! In hindsight though, this was one of the easiest parts of the day. Although physically demanding, we managed to make haste through the scrub and reach rockier walking pretty quickly.
Climb on my back, said Mt. Sedgwick.
Breaching the scrub onto a small rocky saddle, we took a moment to catch our breath. Not least because of the exertion, but because views were starting to open again! The traverse over the rocky spine wasn’t quite as steep as what we’d just pushed through from the base, and we were high enough now that the light breeze was cooling our overheated bodies. Endorphins and summit fever were starting to kick in, because we knew Mt. Sedgwick’s summit was close – very close.
I could spy a suspiciously official-looking rock cairn high in the distance on a dolerite outcrop but knew, from previous research, the actual summit was a trig point, which must still be hidden further to the south west. Bender and Viv were someway behind me at this stage – I could hear their voices in the wind. Bender caught me as I reached the cairn, and I promised that I would wait for him and Viv a few metres from the summit before touching it! He stayed back to take some more photos and wait for Viv, while I continued slowly climbing the dolerite rock.
Eventually the summit trig came into sight and I sat and rested waiting for Viv and Bender. The sun was out, the views were spectacular in every direction and we had beaten our cut off time comfortably, arriving just on six hours to the summit! Moments later the three of us had hands on the rather sorry-looking trig with very big grins on our faces! It was feast time – for our stomachs and our eyes.
But why do you do it?
If we had a dollar for every time we get asked “why do you do it?” we would be comfortably retired and climbing mountains full time! It’s moments like these that answer that question. Actually, its not just moments but the whole journey. It’s testing yourself physically and mentally, and reaching the point at times you thought might be impossible – then sitting back and soaking it all in. Sweaty, hungry, grimy, smelly and bush beaten, but feeling like you’re literally on top of the world.
Below us tarns and lakes reflected the sun. In the distance mountainscapes captured our attention. Competing for our eyes‘ attention were Eldon Peak, Frenchmans Cap, Mt. Olympus, Barn Bluff, Cradle Mountain, Mt. Pelion West – the list is endless! The three of us could have sat there all day, but alas we had an equally long and tough return journey to tackle. Mt. Sedgwick is one of those rare mountains where the return journey isn’t helped much by gravity.
When the lights don’t go out.
Tapping my watch like a time keeper, I reminded the others it was time to away. Bender, never one to leave a mountain top in haste, wanted a few more photos so would catch up to Viv and I at the rocky saddle where we would re-enter the scrub. I had used my walking pole most of the day to assist my dodgy right knee, still sporting its injury from the Western Arthurs traverse. Knees are weird things – it‘s often harder on the downs than the ups, and I knew we had a few of those. If I had to, I would bum slide the descents, if it meant making up time and resting my knee! Turns out we descended the scrub down off Mt. Sedgwick in a very speedy if somewhat unglamorous fashion, and that would set the tone for our return journey.
Having the benefit of elevation and firsthand knowledge of the terrain crossed earlier in the day, we were able to pick out several easier sections for our return route. At one stage, with my knee now really starting to ache, I told Ben “I was now allergic to button grass”, hence picking all the rocky leads and slabs I could see.He quipped back promptly that he was “allergic to making deviations from the route back to the tent” – LOL!. We compromised, in that he took the button grass and Viv and I rock-hopped as much as possible. It was actually allowing us to make much faster progress homewards.
The final two challenges.
Bender was not relishing the lengthy climb out of the multiple scrubby gullies after Clark Creek. Viv and I were not relishing the final scrub bash onto the Geikie plateau. Each individual always has a “bit” that they absolutely love or hate. The one thing we did all agree on was that we would always pick the path of least resistance on the way back to camp, in the hope we’d get back before dark. That meant for the climb out of Clark Creek we would use the two cairns present to indicate where to climb the boulders. And guess what? It was easier! All of us now using our poles to pick up the pace, as we strode out on the open ridge that wound back to the plateau.
Reaching the base of the climb back up to the Geikie plateau, we surveyed the terrain ahead. I wanted to cross a small gully and head back up slightly further east. I could see a final “yellow brick road” consisting mostly of pineapple grass that was far more appealing than scrub bashing up the other side of the hill. The others agreed that it couldn’t be any worse, so I set off weaving us upwards. It was almost too easy. If I ever go back, I know where I will be wandering for this section! Even on tired legs our pace was faster than earlier on in the day.
Someone left the lights on!
We arrived back at camp in the daylight – just! A lovely surprise as was the fact that our return journey had been faster, despite weary legs, thanks primarily to avoiding some of the worse sections ofscrub. It had taken 11.5 hours in total, but were were back to the lake. Farewelling Viv (as she was camped further northj) we set about cooking dinner and reliving the day. Neither of us was as physically thrashed as we suspected we might have been, but we both agreed we would still sleep well tonight! Thanks for the memories Mt. Sedgwick and one day we might just visit you again.