Sunday 11 January 2015

A Mt Anne Epic 1: Some Like It Hot

Some like it hot. I’m not one of them. So when the forecast for our planned four day trip in the Mount Anne area suggests a hot first day, I push our start time as early as possible. That way we might avoid the worst of the heat on the steepest part of the climb.

I’m hoping the forecast cloud will delay the heat. But as we turn onto the pale gravel of the Scotts Peak Road, well over two hours after leaving Hobart, the sky is clear and blue. In south-west Tasmania that’s usually a cause for celebration. Nearby Strathgordon averages two and a half metres of rain a year, and Mount Anne considerably more. There are only 16 clear days a year, and this is one of them.

[Tim points out Mt Anne from the lower slopes] 
Considering a 680m climb carrying full packs, we’re not as excited as we might be to see the mighty pyramid of Mt Anne stark against the blue. After a car shuffle and the usual mucking around, we heave our packs on at around 9:30. It’s already over 30 degrees, and our plans of avoiding the heat have melted before us.

We have little time to settle into our packs before we hit the brutal climb up the shade-less buttongrass slope. We’re carrying plenty of water, are slick with sunscreen, and have hats tugged over our faces. Still, it’s inescapably hot. Between heaving breaths Tim and I fantasise about solar-powered air conditioned hats. “There’s a gap in the market” Tim reckons.

We trudge slowly upwards, stopping frequently for water and sometimes scroggin. Over the decades I’ve done this part of the walk many times in all kinds of conditions, but today feels the hardest. Is it Christmas/New Year over-indulgence on top of the heat, or am I just getting older?

[An early break on the way up Mt Eliza] 
At least the views out over the south-west are as good as ever. We tell Paola and Lina, the two German walkers who have joined us, the names of the various ranges. Tim and I linger over the saw-toothed profile of the Western Arthur Range, remembering separate epic trips there. We recount the story of the original Lake Pedder, and the impoundment that now covers it. They are gob-smacked by their surroundings, and teach us some German expressions of awe and wonder … or possibly they’re just expletives!

We’ve planned a lunch break at the Mt Eliza Hut. I remember it always taking quite a while to come into view, but today it is stubbornly tardy. Mick and the frauleins decide to walk on and wait for us at the hut. Tim stays with me, doing his best to jolly me along. I’m struggling, barely able to put more than 50 steps together before needing to stop again.

There is no respite from the heat, no trees to shade us and precious little breeze. I feel as though my brain is boiling inside my hat. We reach the top of a slope, or what turns out to be a false top. I slump to the ground again, turn my head as far away from the sun as possible, mutter apologetic words of exhaustion to Tim.

[Mick at High Camp Memorial Hut, aka Eliza Hut]
After a while I look up, as though to will the hut to appear. Instead I see Mick coming towards us, without his pack, carrying two bottles. He gives each of us a bottle of fresh cool water. The bad news, he says, is that the hut is still 40 minutes away. The good news is that he’s happy to carry my pack to the hut. I bless him, take a slug of water, and we set off.

I start to realise I’m not just tired when I find walking just as hard without the pack. Tim recounts his experience of heat stroke on a Frenchmans Cap trip. It included nausea and vomiting, but as I’m not feeling sick, I don’t think I’ve got that. But it could be heat exhaustion. Distracted by such speculations, we suddenly reach the hut. It’s only taken 20 minutes. Mick has a sly smile. “Thought it’d be better to overestimate.”

[Is this heat exhaustion? Resting outside the Eliza Hut. photo Mick Adams] 
I drop to the ground outside the hut, in the shade of a myrtle beech tree. I can’t even lift my head to drink, let alone think of eating. I lie there for 15 or 20 minutes before starting to feel human again. We have lunch and discuss the options for the rest of the day. I’m not the only one suffering in the heat, and given we’re only just over half-way to our destination at Shelf Camp, and that rain is forecast, we eventually choose to stay at the hut. We’ll re-assess our onward options in the morning.

Over lunch Paola gives me an orange-flavoured magnesium tablet to dissolve in a bottle of water. It’s supposed to help replace electrolytes after physical exertion, and seems to hit the spot. After an hour or so of rest and rehydration, I feel well enough to join the others on a recce of the track above.

[Stunning views over Lake Pedder from above Eliza Hut] 
The track is steeper and rockier than ever, but with tiny day packs and superb views, it’s surprisingly do-able. But any thoughts of staying up there for sunset views over Lake Pedder are overturned by a coming storm. We turn back and reach the hut just as a long line of bruised black cloud rolls towards us over the lake. Lightning flickers, a veil of rain is draped beneath the cloud, and thunder rumbles. We estimate its time of arrival, then Tim and I tighten our tent guys and retreat to the shelter of the hut for a spectacular show.

[The storm approaches Eliza Hut] 
The beat of the rain drowns out normal conversation, so we have to shout our gladness that we’re not caught out on Eliza Plateau during this! Perhaps my heat exhaustion was a blessing in disguise. As I share some wine with Mick – a small thank you for his kindness – I raise a glass to dry huts and fortuitous decisions.

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