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Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Attempt on the Mt Anne Circuit

After the recent success on the South Coast Track in Tasmania, there was still some leave left and so a chance to settle some unsettled business with Mt Anne. This is the highest mountain in SW Tassie, and is an impressive and beautiful peak rising from the shores of Lake Pedder. A few years ago some sons did a very long hard daywalk attempting the summit, but ran out of time and light before the final assault, though we got close. At the time we learned about the Circuit, which  is a four day walk going past Mt Anne, camping on  a high saddle before Mt Lot, and following the amazing narrow rocky ridge line of Mt Lot to the Lonely Tarns and beyond. We wanted to do it from then on, and I saw a chance to try it now. A friend and walking companion of old happened to be visiting Tassie en famille  at the time, and was able to organise a leave pass to join me on the attempt.

We gathered as much info as possible before setting out. My own memory of it was that while tough it was no worse than the  hardest days of the South Coast track (though the Son who did it with me had a memory at variance with this). Reading about the days I hadn't done, the hardest part seemed to be the Mt Lot ridge, especially the part called The Notch where you are advised to pack haul down and up 7 metre rock faces.

We set off on a day which was allegedly going to to be fine, to find the mountain ominously misty. As we climbed the mist lifted, but looking back it was often a little ominous: a bit like this:

On the descent from Mt Eliza

It was however spectacular. After a period of climbing you can see the whole of Lake Pedder:

Partd of B&W panorama of Pedder on descent

Eventually we came to the hut which marks the end of the nice formed path that makes the first 800 metres or so fairly easy. There we heard that there were various parties that had been holing up in the hut, hoping for a break in the weather. We were starting to learn that walking in SW Tassie is often about waiting for the weather! Things seemed to be getting better, so we started to negotiate the slow boulder climb that takes you up the next 300m or so to the summit of Mt. Eliza. There were bits that looked terrifying, but in fact none was dangerous at all. We did have the feeling it would be scarier going down. And I was beginning to realise that my experience last time was irrelevant, because that was with a day pack: climbing boulders and attempting moves tricky for a non-climber is a completely different experiencewith a full pack .

Soon Eliza was attained. Here's Geoffrey celebrating with a PhD camera (Press Here, Dummy)

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We then walked along the beautiful, open Alpine tops for a while. It was scattered with little pools and mossy communities.

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Eventually we came to a serious boulder field we had to cross, which was no fun at all with our full packs. You are guided across them by cairns like this one:

Negative of cairn on descent from ELiza

Eventually we came to the point where the track diverged from the Anne summit to go down to the Shelf Camp on the saddle before Mt Lot. As we started to pick our way down, Geoffrey pointed out some tents already set up there in the distance, which seemed not to flapping too much (wind is the biggest danger in camping on exposed locations). As we got lower, though, the wind picked up and the other tents were visibly moving. When we got  to the bottom the wind had got really very high. And we found that there was no soil for tent pegs. The shelf was a solid rock shelf. My tent (A Big Agnes FLy Creek 1) takes 13 pegs!

But it was the wind that was the biggest enemy. We struggled to get Geoffrey's tent up, but we managed it with a judicious use of rocks and the cunning trekking pole as spacer bar that substitutes for staking out the corners:(photo taken in the quiet of the morning after!)

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Then it was time for my tent: but the wind was now so high we were having no luck holding it in place. And then the guy lines on one slide snapped, as did the attachment point. It was time to abandon this tent for the night, which meant sleeping two in Geoffrey's four season one man tent which meant that we had both to be on our sides, with half the body pressed cold against the tent wall. Only because the tent had vestibules on both sides did we stay dry. A tunnel tent would have had us against condensation. I had been giving Geoffrey a hard time about bringing a heavy four season tent with him, but now I was very glad!

After little sleep and a night of wind an pouring rain, it dawned misty but fine. The Notch loomed in the mist - you can see the vicious cut-out in the ridge line about a couple of km away:

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The Shelf Camp site itself was very impressive as the mist lifted:

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And our little tent looked very insignificant in it!

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While gathering water I got talking to some of the people who were also camped there. The slightly odd feeling that their party had was explained by the fact that they were on a paid expedition with a guide, so didn't know each other. They had been camp camping there for a while waiting for the weather to improve, and the night before we arrived even one of their tunnel tents had broken its poles in the wind! I talked to the guide about what was to come. His view was that although he had free climbed the Mt Lot Ridge in his youth (he was an old man of 30) he certainly wouldn't do it now without harnesses and full gear. I gulped.

This intelligence, plus reading Chapman's notes about how long, exposed and difficult it was, with the rocky ridge in plain view, made us reconsider, especially with more sleepless nights due to tent failure in the offing.

Geoffrey decided to make an attempt on the summit of Anne, which is supposed to be easier than Lot. Here it is from the camp site as the last mist comes off it:

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I took the time to actually enjoy being in a truly amazing place for a few hours while he made his attempt. I think that so much bushwalking is spent trying to get places, and then set up or break camp, that time to actually enjoy in tranquility the extraordinary places we are privileged to get to is neglected. I set myself up near the cairn that marks the Anne-Eliza saddle on the route up from Shelf Camp.

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From the other direction I had a view of the high ridge line of Mt Lot (the dark one) we had piked from:

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Eventually Geoffrey emerged from Anne: he had turned back just before the final, hard bit. He had climbed two stretches he wasn't absolutely sure he could get down, and it started to involved throwing your body over thousand metre drops. And that was the easy part. This certainly vindicated our decision not to continue.

So we reversed our tracks. But defeat will not be countenanced!  The circuit (and the Western Arthurs) might best be done with a guide, and if we can find enough Sons and friends to book out a trip that would make for the best dynamic. So more rock training and a guide should make these classic walks achievable!


  1. Stunning photos of what sounds like a great trip!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


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