Winter in Tasmania with SUBW – I

by Athol Abrahams

From SUBW Logbook 3

Tuesday morning, the 9th August saw us journeying over the Lakes Highway. The ‘us’ referred to five SUBWs – Wendy Butler, Rick Streatfield, Geoff Webb, Athol Abrahams and one import, John Lucas. And of course there were five SUBW type packs averaging around the 80 mark. I doubt if it need be mentioned, but in true SUBW tradition we were all cramped comfortably in one VW.

A snow capped peak came into view and as can be imagined the VW almost resonated skywards as all bounced up and down with excitement. An hour later saw us at Cynthia Bay. Nine inches of snow lay all about the lake But alas the ranger was on holidays and the assistant ranger refused to take us up Lake St Claire in the launch. We had to walk and content ourselves with his promise to pick us up in 10 days time.

Wednesday morning, and five very large packs with a pair a hairy legs (sorry Wendy) protruding from the bottom of each, looking very bow legged, and feeling very feeble, stumbled over log and through bog to Echo Pt. Hut, where all enjoyed a two hour siesta after lunch, wrapped up in sleeping bags.

Wednesday night, Narcissus Hut had the pleasure of our company and SUBW celebrated the occasion by conducting unprecedented experiments concerning the


An example of the results obtained and duly recorded in the Narcissus log book can be seen below:


Thursday proved such a fine looking day that it was decided that no opportunity should be missed and so as the sun rose five members of S.U.B.W. (having been up since 5.30) set off, amid much foolishness, to climb Mount Gould. There were small patches of snow all along the track and we found ourselves trekking through continuous drifts from just above Nicholls Hut. On Gould Plateau it was about 2-3 ft, and more where it had accumulated. Here we had our first taste of snow ploughing and combating snares set in scaparia bushes (by the Viet Cong) and buried under the snow. Of course, as was planned (by the Viet Cong) we would fall through the crust, into the scaparia bush and be so snared for at least 10 minutes till we managed to drag ourselves out. The deeper the hole and the more tenacious the snare the louder the other members of the party would laugh as one battled for one’s freedom. Only a few paces later to be snared again.

On Gould Plateau we found a small tarn frozen over – of course who could resist, least of all Blue, who proceeded out onto the ice. Wendy, sensing a bit of fun, cocked her camera. And as surely as could be expected the ice began breaking behind Blue. He lowered himself onto his stomach and began to wiggle like an anaemic caterpillar. Wendy’s shutter crashed, Blue chickened and jumped to his feet and fled towards shore- it would be more accurate to say he waded towards shore amid roars of laughter.

We proceeded up Gould and amid snow flurries climbed across snow bridges capping the boulders on the summit to the cairn. We retreated quickly to the couloir we had ascended and hurled ourselves down the slope- belly glissading we believed it is called. Boy was this the way to travel – at least provided there are no 10 ft. cliffs along the way – alas there was.

It wasn’t too bad for the first fellow, he just took off (his heart in his mouth), cruised proverbially through the air and disappeared with just as much ease and grace into a 5ft. drift. By the time he had excavated himself leaving a very large hole the remainder of the party one by one came racing down the slope, took off in good style and disappeared head first down the very large hole – except the last fellow – he wouldn’t fit – it was filled up – with a heaving screap!

With snow falling and very cold feet we perched ourselves upon a large boulder and attacked our Ryvitas and chocolate. Then with much haste proceeded back to Narcissus Hut.

Friday morning – 5.30 am up and breakfast before setting out for Pine Valley. It is best to take the track up the Narcissus Valley and then out across to Cephissus Ck rather than take the track underneath Mt. Gould (via Nichols Hut) – this is too muddy. Take the track up Pine Valley through the beech forest rather than across the bottoms which are very wet. We had an easy afternoon making jelly and popcorn which was flavoured with caramel sauce made by burning brown sugar in butter.

Saturday morning we again were up several hours before dawn which bathed Mt Gould in brilliant colour. As the valley became lighted the birds came alive with much chirping etc which proceeded in a wave down the valley. From the uppermost slopes – faint at first and then louder as the minutes passed and the birds further down the valley began their din.

As the chirping became louder and closer to the hut – calls of “the Viet Cong are coming” could be heard echoing around the hut. Ice axes were grabbed (interpreted as sten guns, mortars and 25 pounders), the pint containers full of shellite (Molotov cocktails), pitons and crabs (bayonets and hand-grenades) and mountaineers in various forms of undress leapt up into the rafters above the door to prepare for the onslaught. If some unfortunate just happened at that moment to return to the hut (after having ‘looked at things’) he was likely to be pounced upon as he came through the hut door. The lightest he could expect to come off was an ice axe through the head (a sagittal section).

On Saturday we climbed the Acropolis by the usual scrambling route. However the gully was topped by quite a fair sized cornice which added complications; not only were we forced to climb up directly underneath unroped, but we had to escape from the gully onto the summit plateau directly up the side of it. Quite fun in itself. No mishaps however and besides the usual blizzard blowing across the summit inducing frozen hands and feet we descended quite uneventfully utilising our stomachs to maximum advantage. However it would become quite ridiculous when all would, upon finding a good slope, trudge back up the mountain again and again to repeat the glissade in order to see who could go fastest and furthest. That night we celebrated with chocolate cake by courtesy of Flora.

Sunday with the weather fining up we climbed to Old Parthenon to have a look at the Du Cane Range which we had come prepared to traverse. We found the snow very soft and very deep. With such a heavy cover it was asking for quite a slog. As it was we would spend the whole morning slogging up slopes to each summit. With packs there would be no retrieving ourselves from Viet Cong snares and deep pits.

Monday we retraced our steps up to the saddle between the two Parthenons and assaulted a large couloir (the central one) which split the face of the Parthenon proper where it faced into Pine Valley. We had left our start al bit late and by the time we got into the gully proper there was a lot of nervousness in the party concerning avalanching as the snow was by now quite wet and soft. We piked out and finally ascended a gully and rib a bit further to the north on the fringe of the face to reach the summit for a late lunch. We returned down the back slopes of the saddle conducting much snow ball fighting along the way. Thence back to the hut at the run, sprinting through the moss forest, leaping over logs, swinging on branches, splashing through the mud while ice axes were swung with great delight above heads accompanied by much yelling and laughter.

In such a fashion and with the sound of machine guns five buggered mountaineers crashed into Pine Valley Hut – much to the surprise of two unexpected guests who were just about themselves to take to the rafters. We introduced ourselves – Wee Wendy, Blue Baby, Geoff Gear, Rickapoodie and Athol Daddie. Our guests were British cavers doing a little bit of walking. One lectured in Classics at ANU and the other lectured in History at Adelaide. They got used to us – although our language proved a little confusing. That night when Rick announced that he was going out to ‘look at things’ the classics lecturer suggested he take a torch as it was dark. He was a little puzzled when we all just about collapsed with laughter. Finally someone mentioned that the E.T. (essential tissue) would probably be of greater use.

Tuesday we packed up and hauled our gear around to Du Cane Hut stopping in at all the falls along the way (which were carrying far more water than I have ever seen in summer). The next day we planned to go on up to Pelion gap and camp.

True to form we had some trouble that night. Down the chimney as we expected. However we had hung all our packs with crabs and slings from the rafters – quite effectively anti-possum. And we took great delight in spotlighting the offender from the top bunks and bombarding him with boots as he fled towards the chimney.

Wednesday 5.30 signalled a mutiny – not that it was very strongly resisted, it was more like a bloodless coup d’etat although I was impressed by the fact that it might not have been bloodless. The new administration announced, as their first bit of legislation, – a rest day. The day was spent chopping wood, reading, even studying (as we had all come prepared to be snowed in for at least 3 or 4 days, and enjoying our first wash, and sewing up torn parts of sleeping bags – the latter a consequence of a nightmare.

Thursday morning we rose early and with full gear set off for Pelion Gap from whence we attempted Ossa just as the mist was clearing. We climbed in perfect conditions. The snow was hard and we were even forced to cut steps. Above the gully (which we found completely choked with snow) we experienced a white-out and almost walked over the edge. The cloud cleared as we reached the summit and we enjoyed fantastic views over almost 360 degrees. As we sat down for lunch a blue tourist light plane flew into sight and low over the peak. We are sure they must have wondered just a little at what all these mountaineers were doing running around and pointing their ice axes at them – they might have understood it they could hear the ‘rat-a-tat-tat-tat’ that accompanied the lethal pointing.

We glissaded all the way back to Pelion Gap whence we set off back to Du Cane running across the plains leaping from clump to clump of grass and scrub to avoid deep snow drifts and mud.

Friday night saw us back at Narcissus where we christened out favourite bird in the park (beside Wendy) the ‘Chuck bird’ – one has only to hear it to appreciate such a derogatory name – he deserves no less nor any name less appropriate (actually the Yellow Wattle Bird).

Saturday morning we expected the assistant ranger to pick us up in the boat as we still were carrying 60lb packs (although we had eaten 20-24lb food each), and we didn’t feel like repeating the slog along the shores of lake St Clair to Cynthia Bay. The ranger didn’t turn up and so a bit browned off, we shouldered packs and headed down the lake. At Cynthia Bay we found the Ranger had been busy all day in the Pub at Derwent Bridge. So we enjoyed a shower, hopped in the VW and headed for Hobart and Federation.


Winter in Tasmania with SUBW II

From the Reserve we headed to Hobart on Saturday night to stay at the home of Dave Allen, a two storey mansion in Battery Point. The whole way to Hobart we kept reminding each other that we had better act ‘normal’ just for a day or two- that is, speak English . The act was a bit of a strain but successful- at least until lunch at Sunday when someone slipped -“pass the butter Blue” – the rot had set in and by the end of the meal people were chucking in magnificent fashion to demonstrate their satisfaction.

We shopped Monday morning and that evening saw us slipping and sliding along the yo-yo road in drizzling rain heading for Blake’s hut on the Huon River. It was glorious in the mud. Ten steps and with a silent thump and a bit of a grunt Rich would disappear from the beam of the torch to be found lying face down in a puddle under cape and pack, looking quite disgusted. Or in another effort, climbing a bit of a steep pitch, Geoff would slip: Wendy, seeing him fall, stepped forward to help him up and promptly ended up sitting in the same puddle. Of course Rich, being a bit wiser now and a bit less of a gentleman would sit down on the nearest log roaring with laughter, leaving the two unfortunates to get out of the goo using their own devices.

Eventually we evolved a system whereby Blue and I would go first with a good torch and sound a very characteristic ‘bog horn’ whenever a real ticklish patch recurred in the track.

Tuesday we set off in stoic style to complete the yo-yo road and by lunch time reached Cracroft Crossing. The river was up very high and in typical S.W. drizzle we made a very hairy crossing of some very slippery logs. As the rain continued, and since someone decided it would be a fantastic idea to have our lunch in our sleeping bags, the leader recognised the futility of suggesting that we move on to Pass Ck. that day, and so gave in to an afternoon of romping and reading.

Wednesday with snow flurries sweeping across the buttons temporarily whitening the Razorback Rage and hiding the brilliant white peaks of the Western Arthurs we set off for the Pass Ck. and by 10:00 were starting up Luckmans head. It began to snow quite consistently and was lying 9″ deep through the forest on the head. From the buttons Federations had appeared as a white crystal like fang and there was no turning back although we were quite sceptical about our chances of even reaching it – never mind climbing what I suspected would be a very ice – choked climbing gully. We had not brought lilos, had only 4 days’ food on our backs and had for some ridiculous reason left our snow goggles back in Hobart.

Finding the route into Stuarts Saddle proved quite a bit of guess work, and required a bit of luck . The going was very slow, and the snow very deep, covering all signs in the way of cairns etc. It is necessary that someone in the party be familiar with the route. The far side of Stuarts Saddle was even more fun with snow drift over 10 ft. deep and very soft. With big packs we spent 1 hour going 3-400 yards and finally with darkness threatening chose a campsite under a small cliff at the top of the scree gully on the step underneath the needles.

We excavated the site and by driving pitons into the cliff, and using a few convenient Pandanni, managed and idyllic campsite. We stripped the bottom leaves off several local Pandanni and built up a thick (2′) warm although unstable floor in each tent to separate body from snow.

Beside the inconvenience of having to melt our water (as any water we fetched with great effort froze solid before we could use it) and spilling the main course twice off the choofer into my lap, the night passed peacefully while the wind played havoc on Goon Moor. The Gods we felt really had it in for us tomorrow.

Thursday morning we found in usual fashion boots and socks frozen solid and gloves only fitted fingers after softening up with the piton hammer.

Geoff was having quite a bit of trouble with bruised ankles and decided to turn back rather than be a liability later. Wendy offered to go with him as her legs were bruised right up to the knee from ploughing into the snow crust all day. We divided the food very unevenly- Blue, Rich and I somehow ending up with all the goodies and leaving such essentials as all the matches, rice and porridge but no salt and little sugar with Geoff and Wendy. We thought from the conditions that an ascent of Federation itself would be very unlikely and so disposed of the rope from the stack of community gear the ‘forward’ party already had to carry. We thought if the opportunity presented itself we could always use the 60 ft of no. 2 nylon slings we had and the pitons and crabs.

Rich, Blue and I said goodbye and ploughed off up over the Needles. The route was vague, but eventually we found ourselves atop the final Needle some 500 ft. above Goon Moor which appeared like a white carpet. Trekking through the scoparia forest proved a real cur. The tunnel which in summer enables you to just about run through the gnarled tangle was choked with snow, forcing us to wade through the tops of the 8 ft. scoparia, and at times resort to crawling on hands and knees underneath the worst patches as the branches, knocked by our packs, deposited their load of snow and ice crystals down the back of our necks.

By some miracle there was a respite from the winds as we came out onto the moor. Thanking the Gods, but expecting any moment for them to turn on us with all their fury, we found suitable rocks to deposit our frozen feet, sat upon our packs and devoured with great vigour the last of the rye bread and leatherwood honey. In half an hour we were moving again. Federation remained in cloud but we were able to pick our route fairly successfully over the ridge crests towards the Four Peaks. We were moving quite well. At the crevice though the first peak we had to pass our packs down in human chain fashion and were forced on two other occasions to pack haul with a rope which in summer I had previously avoided. In winter with boots, and the holds covered in ice and snow, climbing some of the rocky pitches encountered along the route proved much more difficult with packs.

Nevertheless, as the sun sank below the western horizon, glowing a brilliant red between the blue line of the mountains and the grey level of the overcast sky, we plodded across Thwaites Plateau. Federation suddenly loomed in front of us black and menacing. The air was still and the atmosphere was positively eerie. We all felt a little unnerved – as if we were trespassing where we had no right to be. I think we all at that moment must have thought of home, a warm supper and TV. Instead we dragged ourselves up the slope towards Hanging Lake by the light of the full moon which made the deathly white scene, out of which rose the black shadows of the crags and gendermes, even more eery.

We passed between the two crags overlooking Hanging Lake and glissaded down the slope toward the lake. Instead of the sheltered campsite in a lovely patch of scoparia which we were all looking forward to (just to get out of the white wilderness) we found nothing but a frozen lake and one or two twigs protruding through the snow to indicate where the sheltered campsite could be found in summer.

We drove our ice axes in and managed to excavate two tent poles protruding an inch or two out of the snow. Someone had been thoughtful enough to leave them standing up driven into the ground. We estimated there must have been 7′ of snow underneath us. We all worked frantically with frozen hands to put the tent up as securely as possible – the whole time muttering to each other that “if that wind comes up tonight we are going to end up floating around in Geeves Lake”.

We managed a few twigs under the groundsheets and then into our double bags and milo and ryvitas for main course followed by I.P. and Peanuts for dessert. As we brewed up a huge billy of milo on the choofer we kept joking of the foolhardiness of such a treat at this time. ‘Do you realise that two minutes after savouring that delicious drink you are going to have to go out there and freeze as a consequence’. Liquid sustenance is not recommended in these conditions – this running in and out of the tent all night is hard on everybody.

Friday dawn heralded great activity – breakfast of biscuits and chocolate was quickly devoured, frozen garments donned and the tent rolled. The sky was clear and the sun brilliant. The snow sparkled so brightly that before we had even begun to move we were forced by the glare to cover our eyes as much as possible. From Hanging Lake we headed for the Forest Chute as quickly as possible – just to get out of the glare for we feared snow blindness. We had hoped to do the southern traverse, climb Federation and return over the route that we had come by. However, one look at the traverse was sufficient to cast serious doubts on our ability to find our way across the face with the cairns under probably up to 8 ft of snow. In addition if we had attempted to return over the snow covered range, we would have been blind by the end of the day.

Instead we headed down the forest chute and on the shores of one of the Northern Lakes, perched on moss covered logs, we cooked a hot meal of deb, soup and peas for an early lunch (10.30 am). We then ascended the scree gully and having reached Bechervaise Plateau about 10 minutes before Blue and Rich I looked for and found the route up to the base of the climbing gully.

From the top of the bluff I hailed Rich and Blue as they reached the Plateau but they replied that they were not interested in attempting the peak. I continued, mainly out of curiosity, to the climbing gully to see what condition it was in for future reference. Large icicles and chandelier-like crystals of ice adorned the walls of the gully and although there was no verglass at the base of the gully the slabs 30 ft above and the quartzite walls overlooking the gully were covered with slabs of milky coloured ice. Still driven more by curiosity than any idea of reaching the top, I started up the gully. A resounding crash from above and the familiar sound of falling ice being shattered against the rock as it tumbled down sent me leaping down the 15′ I had climbed and scurrying down the ice cone of material that had accumulated at the base of the gully. Following right behind me was no mean shower of ice fragments.

This was sufficient discouragement and as the peak had been alive with a sequence of regular roars and crashes the whole morning I did not like the possibility of suffering some form of sagittal sectioning and consequently beetled back to Bechervaise, but at the lower level we found some VCC left overs including matches (of which we had 2 left), 1x 120 ft of no. 4 nylon (which Blue by mutual agreement claimed) and 2 quarts of Victorian Bitter, Unfortunately none of us touched the stuff and all we could do was to pass this valuable piece of knowledge on the another party from the Rover Crew who went to Federation in early December (and to their delight found the cache still intact).

We headed down to Moss Ridge at a great rate and by 5.00 pm had reached Cutting Grass Camp on the West Cracroft. That night we were able to sleep in dry sleeping bags.

Saturday, our fifth day out, we headed down the West Cracroft, cut the corner around the base of the Hopetouns avoiding Cracroft Junction and enjoyed a late lunch just before the big scrub around Strike Ridge. I knew from past experience that there was about half a day’s work in getting through the mess to the plains beyond and so we pitched camp and enjoyed the luxury of an early tea, a yarn about the fire and a good night’s sleep. We were still using double bags even on the plains.

An early start next morning straight into the bauera, we crossed the creek and chose a small spur between the low gaps or saddles that can be seen from the buttons. This is the best route onto the ridge (not Strike Ridge, the one before), climbing up through moss forest rather than bauera which chokes the saddles. Once on top of the ridge traverse left following the ridge crest where one can walk along numerous fallen deadstick logs. Keep to the ridge 3/4 hr and 800 yards will bring you to a buttongrass covered saddle leading onto Strike Ridge. Numerous tree climbing will help navigation, Once on Strike Ridge DO NOT GO STRAIGHT DOWN to the plains. It is very hard work through the scrub. Instead turn east and walk along the clear summit of the ridge towards the Cracroft. Towards the end you will spot a clear lead onto the plains. Following this route you should be able to cross Strike Ridge in about 3 hours.

Once on the plains where the buttons in part are recovering from a 1964 burn the going is quite easy to Razorback and Cracroft Crossing. NB: AVOID GALLERY FORESTS AT ALL COSTS. That night we had a grand reunion at Cracroft Crossing and fun and laughter continued late into the night. It was 10.30 am before people considered leaving their bags on our last day. 5.30 that evening we trooped across Picton Bridge to end a really fantastic trip.