Traversing the Triangle
This is a trip report written soon after the walk in June 1990. It may have been published in a magazine, but I am not sure now.
Bushwalk to Mounts Byron, Cuvier and Manfred
Does camping on a high plateau in strong winds and rain, pushing uphill through thick scrub, crossing a waist deep creek to set up camp at last light or forcing on frozen trousers, socks and boots in the early morning have any appeal to you. Well in spite of these obstacles, I and most of our party enthusiastically enjoyed just such an adventure.
It all took place on a June long weekend when Dave T led Philip, Richard, Sandra, Nigel and I up from Narcissus to Byron Gap in fine windy conditions. Our objectives were a triangle of peaks, Mts Byron, Cuvier and Manfred, situated near Lake St. Clair in the southern section of Tasmania’s famed Cradle Mt. Lake St. Clair National Park.
Each of these mountains is capped by dolerite overlying either a conglomerate or sandstone base and although not grouped under the name of a range, do have a direct and distinct link from Mt. Olympus through to Goulds Sugarloaf.
Much of the distance to the Gap is through rainforest which features lovely specimens of Sassafras, however the slopes just under the crown of Mt. Byron seem to be dominated by Richea Pandanifolia with the mossy ground being liberally spread with the long fronds fallen from these unique plants.
On reaching a rock scree, packs were left behind whilst we went to the top of Mt. Byron and then on return the western slopes were negotiated down to a delightful land bridge connecting to Mt. Cuvier. This traverse was now new ground for all of us as we passed numerous small nooks surrounded by dense thickets seemingly designed by nature especially for walkers tents. However it was too early in the day for camping, so their attraction had to be disregarded.
A few light showers met us on reaching a splendid panoramic shelf below the summit of Mt. Cuvier, and along with the arrival of strong winds, encouraged establishing guy lines on setting up tents. The north east wind increased considerably in strength during the night, bringing with it quite heavy rain. Morning, however, saw a complete change with a slight south west breeze gently pushing along the enveloping cloud.
Dave had planned a day walk out to Mt. Manfred, so was up early to discourage anyone from thoughts of drowsing on for a bit longer. Unfortunately, a shock awaited him as his ‘good morning’ call outside one tent was shattered by the news that Nigel’s sleeping bag had become entirely soaked. Several options, as to our best course of action, were discussed, with Richard suggesting that we all go to Narcissus via Mt. Manfred, so that Nigel at least could stay overnight in the hut. By 9:00 am we were moving through the mist, encountering views from time to time of the northern escarpment of Mt. Cuvier.
The final part of the ascent was complemented by alpine flora that even in the mist was rather lovely. A hawk watched from a rocky perch until finally deciding to fly off, but despite the fact that the cloud did not follow suit we appreciated the time on top in the quiet and moody atmosphere.
Cuvier has a high level (1100 metre ) connection to Mt. Manfred, in a similar manner to the one with Mt. Byron, and as we prepared to head north along it, the now clearing mist revealed glimpse of Manfred’s towering eastern peak. Close to hand the cliffs of Cuvier were dramatically highlighted as the sun began to burn away their shroud of white.
Ahead lay an environment more protected from the harsh winds comprising an almost garden like setting of bushes and small gums, dropping gently through 100 metres, as low myrtle forest took over until finally ending on heathy moorland at the low point of the wide ridge. Beyond, however, scoparia and thick tangled myrtle forced a mighty struggle upwards until a shelf below the cliffs of the summit block of Manfred was reached. Here an idealistic lunch spot was found, comprising a huge mat of creeping pine backed by a little bank of mrytles and pencil pines. Before us lay Lake St. Clair edged on the east by Mt. Ida and the Traveller Range and on the right by Mts Olympus and Byron all topped by a clear blue sky. Such serenity discourages conversation, and with winters other bonus of no buzzing insects, it was easy to drift into tranquillity.
At 1 o’clock Dave suggested getting underway again and he had an ally in achieving this aim. For at precisely 2 minutes after 1pm the suns warming rays were chopped off by the looming bulk of Mt. Manfred and as Phil watched, his thermometer suddenly dropped 5 degrees.
An attractive terrace of lush green alpine grass brought us to the north east edge of the mountain and it was from here that we made a quick ascent to the summit with its grand views down onto Lake Marion and across to Mt. Gould. By 2pm, after collecting packs, an animal pad was being followed, but it ended at a substantial sandstone cliff. Even at this stage, narcissus on the shores of Lake St. Clair looked to be within our grasp and so the hunt for a safe descent did seem a bit of a game.
Eventually a damp little gully was located, heavy with moss and sufficient panadanis to use as hand holds for the numerous small drops. It was fortunate that everything was so soft and soggy, because Sandra took a spectacular head first dive down one of them, passing a startled Phil on the way.
Now out on a nice flat, wide ridge it just seemed like it would be a simple case of picking a route down to the floor of the valley to a point somewhat below Lake Marion. But, unbeknown to us, nature had conspired to hide in the forest a sheer cliff of considerable height. After following this along for a while, without finding a break, Dave called a halt. With 4pm fast approaching it was clear that it would be close on dusk by the time we met the track to narcissus. Our only real concern was Nigel’s wet sleeping bag and although Dave favoured setting up camp close by, it was decided to search for a way down a bit longer, which eventually proved successful.
Ancient rainforest now was dominant over steepishy gullied ground, and as regrets started to surface over not voting for Dave’s earlier camping suggestion, we pressed on until coming out onto the plains, finally reaching the Lake Marion outlet creek as the setting sun took with it the light. Richard was first across, declaring the water waist deep so Phil plunged in further downstream and advised that it was only up to mid thigh. I can only think Phil is on the way to developing the power to walk on water, because it certainly felt higher than mid thigh to me.
Camp was established on a little clear knoll, although some considered the option of continuing on to narcissus by torchlight. With the cold descending rapidly it was great to climb into the sleeping bag. The moon seemed to be a constant companion that night and together with ice cracking, foretold of a clear day ahead.
From time to time I wondered how Nigel was coping. He and Sandra were going to share an unzipped sleeping bag as a cover and wear plenty of clothing, some of it supplied by other members of the party. As it turned out both managed to keep comparatively warm under the circumstances.
Looking out of the tent in the morning revealed the dawning of a superb day, as a clean golden glow lit the mountains. My wet trousers and socks, which were in plastic bags inside the tent, were frozen solid. Phil and I placed our iced up boots and socks close to the stove in an attempt to thaw them and this was somewhat successful, but once we stopped cooking breakfast they froze up again. It was certainly a struggle to put on my trousers and socks, and especially boots, the laces of which were like wire, but at least we didn’t have Richard’s problem; he had to resort to matches to warm his tent zipper in order to open it.
The scene outside was exhilarating with the buttongrass a white crispness. It could be more appreciated once the sun climbed over Gould Plateau and provided warmth during this perfectly still morning. At 9 am it was -7 degrees with our surroundings glistening crystal like in the sun, but the tents had thawed enough to allow packing.
A beautiful and calm winters day is almost peerless and it was with elation that we crunched briskly along the track, passing through a pristine rainforest on the way back to Cynthia bay. On resting at the junction with the overland track, the Lake St. Clair boat was clearly heard and so we finished the day joining a group of sightseers for a ride down the still waters.