Sunday 19 July 2009

Federation Peak - Part 3

[part 3 of a 15 part series describing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]

3) To Farmhouse Creek

The Southern Forests, Tuesday February 5th, 1991

We end up with a group of seven, ‘though we’re more proficient than magnificent. Jim, Bill, the Doc and I have all walked together in Tassie before, but none of us is exactly a “gun” walker. Margaret, a friend of a friend, also has a bit of Tasmanian experience, but Peter and his daughter Natalie, from Western Australia, have limited experience. For all of us this is by far the hardest walk we’ve ever attempted.

We’ve chosen to approach the mountain via Moss Ridge, in turn accessed via Farmhouse Creek. The scene of fierce anti-logging protests in the late 1980s, Farmhouse Creek still has something of an iconic status just a few years later. The road to Farmhouse Creek slashes into the southern forests, beyond the Picton River, and deep into areas that by any assessment deserve World Heritage Area status as much as the neighbouring areas that have that designation. The view from the top of nearby World Heritage listed Hartz Peak tells this story very plainly. To the west and south are wildly folded mountains variously covered in forest or moorland, with no roads and no access other than on foot. To the north and north-west, where roads and their accompanying machines have been, wildness is replaced by the ugly scars of the clear-felling of ancient forest. It is work of which Saruman would be proud.

Controversy is fresh enough that we have to check with the Forestry Commission to be sure the bridge over the Picton River is open to the public. Last season it was closed “for safety reasons”, and friends were forced to walk an extra day through logging coupes. Driving through these clear-felled areas is distressing enough; to walk it would be heart-breaking.

But at Farmhouse Creek the chopping stops. A small sign says we’re in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It is still and deeply quiet after the jolting drive. My stomach is less than happy, partly from the drive, partly from apprehension. Will I manage the walk? What about the climb? Is my pack too heavy; my food adequate; my clothes suitable? Will the weather hold out? Will I slow everyone down? A thousand insecurities bred of the self-doubt that accompanies unemployment.

The sky is a cheerless grey, the air chill. It’s the kind of cool that clings in these shady valleys even on warm days. Today it is reasserting itself fully against a fickle summer, spreading out into the forested ridges that stretch far above us. Had it been a fine day, we wouldn’t have seen the mountains until a few hours into the walk. But hours could become days if this weather translates into the wet and cold that so often prevail around the Arthur Ranges.

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