WHEN THE EAST WIND BLOWS - Spires Range
Article written for the Tasmanian Tramp No 29, which probably accounts for the style adopted.
The walk was to the Spires Range in southwest Tasmania between 5 and 13 February 1990
Official predictions for the south west were for easterly weather with cloud and showers for the next several days. In the past an easterly pattern usually provided ideal conditions out west, so there was much discussion as to the wisdom of leaving on the planned date. As it transpired some of our original party pulled out leaving just four of us, Chris, Mary, David and myself, setting out on day one, albeit almost three hours later than first planned.
By the time vie reached Maydena, the last town, it was pleasant though somewhat: cloudy. Here a local resident informed us that the river levels had dropped since the previous day, which brought on the need to make a decision between fording the Gordon River or walking downstream and crossing at Gordon bend, by flying fox. As an extra couple of hours were needed for the longer route we decided to take the wet option.
Standing on the banks of the Gordon I recalled the last crossing at this spot was on a nice gravel bed. This time it was lying well below the dark water. Chris plunged, in and pioneered the course. During his crossing David got up on a tree trunk bridging the deepest section, but did not continue. With water thrashing around me, including into my trouser pocket, I began questioning his lack of movement. The reason was to allow Chris to dig into his pack for a camera to take our photo. This seemed to take a long time, so that when the picture session finished and David seemed to make a move I readily clambered out of the water, unfortunately making light contact with him. Well slippery logs and human feet require gentle movement and the bump was enough to have us both desperately trying to avoid falling into the river.
Each side of the Gordon River is clothed in thick bush all lorded over by large eucalypts. However once away from these, the wide button grass plains of the Vale of Rasselas provided delightful views of sunlit Mount. Wright and The Thumbs. Within 5 hours we were ascending the steep moraine leading to Lake Rhona. Because of the later than planned for start, camp was made behind the brilliant white quartz sands of the lake shore, surrounded by the dramatic dark cliffs of Reeds Peak.
Just a touch of light rain fell overnight, leaving misty clouds still cloaking the mountain above next morning. It was hoped to make up for lost time, so an early and energy sapping start took us up the most direct route of a very steep gully passing right under the summit of Reeds Peak and out onto ridge tops towards Bonds Craig.
My memory of the time and distance between the two peaks caused me to be surprised at how long it was taking, though this world enshrouded in grey and the slippery rocks both required care, as I found out by taking a rolling spill into some bushes. Eventually after some 2 hours we found ourselves on the appropriate ridge and the misty cloud gave way as we descended, gradually revealing more of the country that was to be our home for the next week. A most immediate pleasure though, was finding that there existed a very clear pad to follow.
Once down on the button grass, however the pad ended and we were left to establish our own route. Behind rose the steep scree slopes of the Denisons, much like a New Zealand scree, according to David, and ahead the rolling arms of North Star. Sitting on the rocks of a pretty white bottomed creek, for lunch, seemed like an oasis amid the button grass and low scrub of these undulating hills and plains. Apart from the ubiquitous button grass there was plenty of heathy Melaleucas, Teatrees and Sprengelia.
Much of the thickest scrub was avoided but even so it was proving to be a long tiring day. As we crossed Badger Flats and came through the gorge where the Gell River runs, the end of the exertion seemed close. The last kilometre, however, proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back. I stopped to fix a snapped bootlace and on finishing couldn't understand why the others were not further ahead. The reason was soon discovered, as I too floundered about through very thick button grass and Melaleuca. Eventually the only obstacle left was crossing the Gell and it was very pleasing to finish the day.
I didn't feel like eating, so after putting up the tent and having a cup of tea I just lay about. It was hard to understand why I had no appetite but did manage a drink of Staminade and within 10 minutes had to dash from the tent to find a spot to spew. Only liquid came up which gave the impression that no solids remained. I took this as a lesson to make sure that time was taken to keep up the nibbles during a hard day.
Food now seemed more appealing and David made me a cup of soup then a bit later I fancied some yoghurt and somewhat later cooked a main course. The only problem was that this last meal was at 2:30am and with the tents close together disturbed everyone, especially Mary who on hearing all the rustling and clinking of a billy woke up Chris to tell him that the large rat, seen earlier, was at their food.
Fortunately I was back to normal next morning for the climb from Lake Curley onto Perambulator Ridge. The lake was a fine sight, some 200 metres below, with its kilometre long passage hemmed in by Mt.Curley on the opposite side. More button grass and scrub brought us over a higher hill and the peaks of The Spires started to look close. We continued without a break, as all were keen to get to these most dramatic mountains with many great massings of rocky tors reeling back at sharp angles. They possessed such exciting names such as Flame Peak (once known as The Flame), The Camel, False Dome and White Pyramid etc. Flame Peak was obvious as it had red cliffs up one section.
A ridge edge was followed to a solid quartz wall. We climbed up onto the level ground to be confronted with the eastern face of Flame Peak and other peaks all cradling a small, but exquisite, lake known as The Font. On closer examination the sheer face of Flame Peak was quite dramatic with wriggly folds of rock appearing to lean out over us.
There are not many tent sites and unfortunately someone, quite recently, had taken upon themselves to cut out and terrace a new one right beside The Font. It looked a muddy scar and emphasised the fact that these areas need care. It would be preferable for rangers to create a site or two further from the shore in some less conspicuous spots.
Even finer weather greeted us on day four, although skin temperatures were kept: down by a brisk south easterly breeze. Innes High Rocky, our objective, remained completely in view across the plateau to the north, but getting there took much more effort than was first thought, mainly due to the unexpected concentration of button grass at this altitude. On the way Chris climbed a large turret shaped outcrop, rising from the plateau and if you look at the cover of Tramp 28 you can see him there.
Quite a lengthy and relaxed lunchtime was spent on the summit of Innes High Rocky admiring the rugged gullies leading to the vast valley of the Denison River backed by the sawtooth of the mighty Prince Of Wales Range. Equally splendid were The Spires back to the south.
For me the occasion was also marked by the discovery of my camera failing to read the light correctly. I switched back to manual, but felt irritated because I enjoy reliving the experiences from a walk, by looking over the photos, and was now unsure whether there would be any on this occasion. Later that night David, who had two cameras, removed these doubts by suggesting lending one to me. This vas gratefully accepted and later was to be a considerable bonus.
Fortune smiled on us for our second full day at The Spires right through to its ending with a gorgeous sunset. Chris had led us up and over the rocky peaks, chasms and cliffs. During that whole day, a distance of only 4 kilometres was covered but the majestic views of the quartzite towers close to hand, those on the Prince Of Wales Range and on to the distant Frenchmans area had been constant embellishments. The magnet of Flame Peak drew David and myself to its top, where we lazed in calm March Fly free air during the late afternoon, the only real distraction was spotting Chris and Mary skinny dipping in The Font.
Chris thought another day should be spent at the current site but David and I prevailed for an extra day at Lake Curley. An early start provided a stunning benefit of The Font under a breathless blue sky, then once down, glorious panoramas back to The Spires with the occasional cloud giving an added depth and contrast to those rugged mountains.
During the long climb back to Perambulator Ridge the cloud increased and kept the temperature from rising too high. Once back at Lake Curley, however, the trend went into reverse and as the clouds diminished we were treated to the thrill of this expanse of water becoming like black glass, reflecting perfectly the surrounding mountains, especially Mount Curley and ending in a peaceful sunset. Days like this cement a commitment to bushwalking.
A beautiful morning followed and after climbing Mt .Curley we returned to enjoy the solitude of the lakeside wilderness. Mary, who had brought 5 books as a precaution against being tent bound by rain had still somehow managed to finish them so joined me in what must be a rare event of circumnavigating the lake. Equally rare we left David and Chris both lazing in the sun like lizards. Chris was so lizard like that that a tiny hopping mouse, which had been wandering about as if we did not exist, nibbled his toe.
From the pattern of the weather it appeared likely the journey back to the Denison Range would be both long and hot, so we started breakfast at 5:30 ready for a 7am departure. Chris and Mary did get away on time, but for David and myself to do so was beyond our capability, simply because Lake Curley that morning was so hauntingly beautiful that we were held there as if under a spell.
The sun rose directly behind the bulk of Mount Curley, thus denying the early rays to the lake and surrounds. In the stillness, mist gradually increased, encompassing all in a quiet ethereal world. Shafts of sunlight gradually flaring over the summit played on the mist ceiling above, then as it slowly worked its way down, brought a brilliant glowing of colours upon the scene. Finally the warm air dominated and the mystery and magic was gone. Knowing that that camera had to be returned encouraged me to take plenty of photos, and how thankful have I been ever since.
David and I finally started off into the still wet scrub at 8 o'clock. The colours and shadows of the morning splashing on the surrounding mountains provided pleasant company at first, but eventually the summer sun became the master throwing an envelope of heat over us as we trudged up and over the ridges on the long haul back. On breasting the Denison Range, however we were pleased to realise that it had not proven to be as physically draining as expected.
The northern part of the Denison Range has a distinct cirque of tors and peaks with many lakes over the eastern edge; it was at the highest of these that we decided to camp. Memories of Lake Malana, are of sitting on a comfortable flat: rock for tea, wandering amongst the rocky tors during a chilly sunset, but most of all the calm and peace of a lovely morning with the sun colouring the soaring cliffs of Bonds Craig.
Most of a morning was spent walking along the top of the easily negotiated range, but once at the southern end it was quite tiring work crossing the foothills of button grass and scrub during the hottest part of the day. Stopping at Gordonvale for the night was an easy decision. It was here that we came across the first people for 8 days. They looked tired, especially two women, and completely bemused us by saying they were going to Lake Curley the next day. I don't know where they ended up but would be stunned if they made it in a day. Perhaps some people hear of these places, look at the distance on a map without realising that this is wild country with just the odd lead. It can be challenging enough in ideal weather.
On our final day we crossed the Gordon just below Gordonvale, negotiated some massively tall bottlebrushes and finally brushed through country massed with fragrant Boronia. It had been a very satisfying trip with many truly memorable moments that make walking in the wilds such a great delight.
You can view a photo album from the walk by clicking the image below