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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mt Anne Circuit: Success at Last!

Welcome to the 50th post of the Sons of the Desert Bushwalking Blog!
The Sons, or at least various subsets of them, have been to Mt Anne a couple of times. Two of us did a long return daywalk to the mountain back around 2010, but ran out of time to make the summit. In 2012 two of us attempted the circuit, but were held back by weather which busted a tent (see here). This January five of us went, and arranged to be in Tasmania for more than the three nights needed for the walk so that we could wait out bad weather. We paid close attention to the forecasts, and found the only two completely clear days were in the middle of our window. Two consecutive clear days are what you need: a fine day is essential for the stage from Shelf Camp to Judd's Charm, as it is dangerous in wind or wet. The previous day is when you'd try for the Mt Anne Summit, so it too needs a clear day. Hence we girded our loins to start in the wet, since the climb to the High Camp Hut is pretty safe in any weather. And we tried not to think of the muddy walk out on the fourth day in the wet.

The Mt Anne circuit is a thing of legend; one of the truly iconic Australian walks that is genuinely challenging to the average walker. Preparation for it reveals an interesting problem: how to calibrate your own abilities against those of people who give walk descriptions. Some people on the web said it was easy, especially given the descriptions. Others said it was impossible, and were not able to complete it, even in good weather. Certainly some have died. So where were we located on this spectrum? It was hard to know. The current writer is the weakest with climbing of the group, and I still wasn't sure the more I read whether I'd find it straightforward or impossible, or somewhere in-between. It's equally hard to tell which the hardest bit is. Most would say the famous Notch that leads on to the scramble to Mt Lot, where most climb a 7m cliff face. Others say it's the exposed scramble to Mt Lot. Others say it's Lightning Ridge from Mt Lot to the Lonely Tarns. Having done it ourselves, we thought it was the boulder-scrambling along the ridge that leads to the Notch - something no-one else had mentioned!

In any case we were well prepared. Most descriptions reccomended that you take some rope for pack hauling. We took enough climbing rope and equipment to be able to abseil down things we didn't want to back-climb, and to belay the weaker climbers on exposed sections. We could likely have done without, but it would have been less safe.

So after a leisurely breakfast and lunch we headed off. Since we were aiming for the hut, we felt there was no point arriving too early and just waiting in the rain. Off we slogged and we arrived at the hut wet and cold, but at least we had done in the fastest time mentioned in Chapman's track notes.

Here we are with our puffies on, having arrived in the hut, and feeling a little worried about all the notices which promise that Velvet Furred Rats are going to eat us and our gear:

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We huddled over our stoves in the hut and looked for the best places to sleep - a little later another party arrived, but between us and the couple that were at the hut already there was no room at the inn, so they headed out to set up their tents in the rain. Before they left they told us of their ambitious plan to get to Judd's charm in one day, taking in Lot's Wife and Mt Anne, which impressed us mightily.

After a bit the rain paused, and your photographer made it to the outside loo that has been installed near the hut, a wet slippery walk away. It must have one the best views of any toilet in Australia:

Next morning we were up and on the track early in the mist and cold. Soon we were scrambling over car-sized boulders. When we reached the summit of Mt Eliza there was still no visibility, and some of us had to be persuaded by instrument we had in fact got there! We then headed off over the easy track on the tops, and then the less easy sections through the boulder fields, until we reached Mt Anne Saddle and turnoff to Shelf Camp. The weather cleared before we got there, and here we are in good spirits with Mt Anne behind us.

At this point you get the first intimation of the circuit route and how hard it is: here's a long-distance view from the turnoff: the little peak to the left is Lot's Wife which on this walk you don't reach, but in the centre is the boulder ridge that you scramble along then sidle around to the left of the rocky knoll to the right of Lot's Wife. You then pass behind the knoll and come out again at   the little notch (called The Notch) before the bulk of Mt Lot. You then climb around at the base of the sheer cliffs you can see on Mt Lot, scramble up to the summit, and then descend on the ridge to the right of the picture - Lightning Ridge.

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Here is the same view with a wider perspective, and Paul and Daniela modelling against the Sublime background:

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Here it is again from Shelf Camp itself, which some of the ubiquitous Richea in the foreground that grows in the mountains of Tasmania

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When we reached shelf camp most of the party headed back to attempt Mt Anne itself. I had woken up with a sore throat and a nasty cold, so I thought the afternoon's rest might make me fitter for the following day so passed on the camera to another to document the summit attempt.

The cairned route from the Mt Anne saddle leads to a grassy area on the SW side of the peak, at the top of the boulder field and at the foot of a rockface, a nice spot for a break. The climb to the summit starts at the far right side of the rockface, where a thin crack with large handholds makes it easy to scramble about 3m to a broad ledge. This ledge runs up and along about 20m to the left, where there is a second, smaller crack that that can be used to reach the next level. The ledge has narrowed to about half a metre by this point, so although it's an straightforward scramble and only a couple of metres, it feels pretty exposed. Here is Daniela in her new orange shell doing that scramble.

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From here a broad but sloping ledge leads back to the right, passing above the first crack and then around through the large columns in the photo below to put you on the SE side of the peak.  Here we are standing on that ledge. The first crack mentioned above is visible in the bottom centre of the photo.

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From here you clamber over and around a few large boulders, no harder than crossing the boulder fields on the walk to the peak, but more exposed. After this a broad, upward-sloping ledge covered in vegetation leads to a point just below the summit and on the NE side of the peak. Here there is another straightforward scramble, not too exposed. After this scramble only a few more boulders separate you from the summit. None of the climbing is difficult, but several of the ledges and boulders slope down and then drop into the void, so a steady head is needed. These points would be a bit scary if the rock was wet and downright frightening if there was any ice about. 

The summit itself commands extraordinary views on a fine day like the one we had:

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Here's one of with Lot's Wife twinkling invitingly in the background: a real theme of this walk!

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Then it was time to descend:

The hardest point is back-climbing down that second crack onto the narrow ledge. As we had a rope with us we opted to abseil straight down from the ledge where we are standing in the last photo. Because the mountain is made up of dolerite columns there are abundant opportunities to build an anchor. From these photos it looks as if it is an easy scramble back up our abseil route. This is not true.

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Back at Shelf camp your photographer was able to hear the coo-ee from the summit! Shortly thereafter the ambitious party who planned Anne, Lott, Lott's Wife and on to Judd's charm appeared, and had rather, ah,  curtailed their ambitions: they were now returning to their original campsite, not even having made it to the Notch. Were they weak or we doomed? Only time would tell! When the summiteers returned we had a brief chance to admire the views: the gulf between Shelf camp and Mt Anne is a truly sublime spot, and as if in recognition of this a Wedge-tailed Eagle spent part of the afternoon soaring on thermals in there. After that it was dinner and bed!

The morning dawned beautifully clear; things were boding well for the scramble to Mt Lot! The first sign of the sun was the glow on the ridge line from Eliza to Anne:

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And then the light hit the cliffs above our tents. My coincidence, the colour of our tents matched the colours we were wearing during the day, to the puzzlement of another party that came by our campsite.

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And then the sun suddenly rose relative to our campsite, bathing the cold rock where Daniela is standing in the previous picture in warm sunshine. The tent in this next picture belongs to the father and sons team that made the journey from Judd's charm in three or four hours!

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Then we headed off. Scurrying over the boulders with camera dangling and trekking pole in hand after it should have been packed away, I had a couple of scary moments that gave me pause. According to our research, this was easy compared with what was to come. What if I couldn't go on at a later stage, when it was too late to return? I was however quickly persuaded that we had plenty of time before reaching the point of no return, and that we should have a chance to see how hard the hardest bits were before then. Much calmed, I was able to get this picture of three of us sidling around the knoll, with Lot's Wife in the background:

Here are a different but overlapping three from another angle. Sorry about the similar pics, I just couldn't decide!

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At about this point you get a great view of the high side of Mt Anne Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Soon we arrived at the Notch, and here we are astonished at the sight of a solo walker (who turns out to be from the Blue Mountains) coming from the west and sidling down what looks to be a hard bit of the Notch on the other side:

Here's the same guy lowering his pack on a rope before starting the climb down: the pack gives good scale to the bit we have to climb up! It's about 7m high and can be done by climbing up the crack where the pack is dangling, then bridging the crack to get onto the ledges on the right, and finally stepping left onto the little triangular ledge (below the guys right hand in the picture) to find the good handholds on top and swing up to where he is sitting. There is another route to the right, but this feels more exposed.

The descent into the notch from the east is straightforward and eventually we got everyone up the climb on the far side (with the weakest having much useful advice and encouragement from those who have a better idea of what to do on rock). We sent the best climbers up to build an anchor, and the less confident were then able to climb on belay. Waiting for the packs to be hauled up was a good time to admire the many natural bonsai southern conifers that cling to the mountain. This one has Lake Judd in the background:

Here is another view of Lake Judd from near the Notch:

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Much sidling and the occasional tricky bit and we gained Mt Lot summit itself in good time. This section was not as difficult as we had thought, though there were moments when we were glad to have rope for pack hauling:

The views from the top are entrancing. Here's one of the Northeast Ridge and Lot's Wife. Chapman says there is a rarely used route down that ridge.

And here's a picture of two of the party being entranced on the summit:

This is the view across the summit boulders back to the peak of Mt Anne:

And finally, the way forward! It's straight down those boulders, and then along the ridge until you leave the ridge just before the first lake you can see from this picture, which is Judd's Charm. Judd's Charm is one of the Lonely Tarns, and it's at 913 metres. The most distant of the three you can see is a full 20 metres lower.

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On the descent there's a view of many tarns; this - Lake Picone - one has an interesting shape:

Here's Paul during one of our rest breaks:

Here you will need to look closely to see three of the party on the ascent of the next bit of the ridge.

The ridge walk was magnificent and all too short. Soon we plunged into bush and began a descent to a moraine ridge between two lakes that took us to our campsite. We were briefly misled too by Chapman's notes. It seems as though he warns against side tracks to the lake before the track leaves the ridge and heads downwards on the left. But in fact these side tracks happen *after* the main track turns left. This caused us to doubt we had found the correct path, and waste some time backtracking.

Soon after this your photographer had a slightly nasty fall. Partly the cold, partly uncoordination, but partly something else: after all the airy scrambling, the typical muddy and steep Tasmanian descent through dwarf forest and tangled roots seemed familiar and easy. With complacency comes injury (as it also does with late afternoon). However it was no real problem, a very bruised ITB which slowed us down on descents the next day, but no real damage. Paul put the right protocol into place immediately: get everyone to stop, get the person who has fallen to eat sugar immediately against mild shock, and get the ibuprofen going before swelling can start. Remember the five or ten minutes you save by getting up quickly and going will be much regretted when you fall again.

Soon we were out of the forest and walking along the moraine ridge between Lake Picone and Judd's Charm. Here's a view of Judd's Charm from the ridge: the campsite is at the far left, and if you had a higher rez version of this picture you'd be able to see a tiny bather in the water near the campsite!

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Soon we were at the Judds Charm campsite: a lovely site, with Mt Lot glowering above it:

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Next day dawned a little more cloudy, but early in the day things were looking good. Here we are shortly after heading off with Mt Lot and the ridge we had descended the day before outlined against the sky behind us:

It wasn't that long before the weather started to change. Here's the last time we had the camera out before the piss-down began:

And here is a wider and unpeopled perspective on this  last view of the Eliza-Anne-Lot massif; Mt Anne itself is sadly covered in cloud:

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The rest of the return was pretty uneventful. Just mud and tracks. The descent off the Mt Sarah Jane spur was harder, longer and slower than we thought, though. We had lunch by the Anne River, where it flows through the button grass plains. Whilst some of us managed to get thigh high in the mud at various times, the plains were in fact much less muddy than we expected.

So once onto the plains, and especially after hitting some duckboarding in the second half, we made very good time and it was early afternoon when we reached the car, wet and happy:

Wonderful walk! One of the most challenging and most rewarding we have done. Big thanks from this photographer to the rest of the party for keeping him on the track. It would have been terrible to miss it! Keep your eyes peeled (or RSS readers tuned) for more adventures of the Sons (and Daughters)!


  1. The troupe have outdone themselves! The scenes of exposure and verticality are nerve-wracking just in the reading about them here in Brooklyn, and your exposures of the scenes are fantastic.

    1. Thanks Chris! Hope we get to walk with you again soon!

  2. Hi Chris - I have some plans to walk in northern Quebec after the next ISHPSSB - you should come!

  3. Hi

    How long was the abseil? What was the length of the rope you carried? thanks

  4. Hi,
    Love the post very informative. Quick Question as I'm attempting this hike later this month. It doesn't look hopeful but I like to hike with my hammock as apposed to a tent or bivy but it doesn't look like there is many suitable trees or boulders to set it up on. What are your thoughts?