I feel it deep in
the pit of my stomach, although I’m not quite sure what to name it. I
eventually decide it’s apprehension. Unlike Mick and Eden, the two other
walkers in the party, I’ve previously been to the Western Arthur Range in
Tasmania’s south-west wilderness. It might have been 35 years ago, but I know what to expect. I remember it as one of the hardest, most epic walks of my
life: a rite of passage to an aspiring bushwalker.
[The old H-frame pack, as used in 1982]
That 1982 trip was
only my second proper expedition into the Tasmanian wilds. I was still in my
20s and had only rudimentary gear. I also had barely a clue as to how you prepare
for such a walk. Into my old H-frame pack I threw whole potatoes, zucchinis,
carrots and onions, plus fresh steak, some cans, and more clothes than I could
possibly use. It’s a wonder I survived.
notwithstanding, I at least had the sense to be a little apprehensive before we
left, especially when the serrated outline of the range reared up at us we neared
Scotts Peak. I remember naively suggesting that the track must sidle around the
peaks, rather than going over them. A tart “Nup … up and down the whole lot”
quickly set the butterflies flapping.
[Surveying the Western Arthur Range from McKays Track]
Afterwards my main responses to the trip were a peculiar mix of vertiginous joy, stunned awe and fear. We had
walked through a landscape that shouldn’t exist in this “wide brown land”, on a
route so steep that it hadn’t looked remotely passable.
But back to January
2017, and my renewed acquaintance with both the Arthur Range and my apprehension.
The source of the latter is not just my time-eroded knowledge of what’s ahead,
but also the nagging thought that my now 60+ year old body is not going to like
this. Add a very ordinary looking weather forecast, and you’ll forgive a few
promisingly. The weather is cool, the cloud patchy, and there’s a strong
breeze. That’s better than par, this being the south-west. We make good
progress, soon breaking out onto the white quartz of McKays Track. Our path
meanders across the wide buttongrass plains that lead to Junction Creek, and
the moraine by which we’ll access the range.
[Buttongrass and track near Junction Creek]
All the way the
Arthurs loom ever larger, and the amount of mud increases. By Junction Creek
we’re lightly marinated in mud, but the creek is flowing swift and clear, and
we clean off a little as we cross to the southern side. With plenty of
daylight left, we find some good campsites and put up two tents and a tarp.
Mick has chosen to combine a tarp with a bivvy bag as an experiment. As he
fiddles with the setup, we offer helpful comments like “What could possibly go
wrong?” But we do give him a hand with some of the guy lines, and eventually he
By morning the
clouds have thickened, and they’ve flattened the top of the range. As we reach
the toe of Moraine A, showers are scudding by. The track onto the range looks brutally steep, an off-white ribbon winding through tawny buttongrass pocked with
quartzy outcrops and bands of scrub. As we climb, the showers come and go. We
put on our rain jackets, climb, sweat, take off our jackets, stop, rest, moan a
little, eat and drink a little, then repeat the process for the next couple of
It’s plain hard
work, ‘though there are some sweet moments. The piping and chipping of the
honeyeaters, and the bright glow of the wildflowers that thrive in this harsh
environment, are somehow encouraging. And although it’s a couple of weeks after
Christmas, nobody has told the Christmas bells. Their beautiful scarlet and gold
bells are continuing the festivities, and they too lift my thoughts beyond my
[Christmas bells and quartzite rock on Moraine A]
We pause briefly beneath
an inadequate rock overhang for a quick, wet lunch. Looking up, it appears we
don’t have too far to go. But appearances do what they often do on a bushwalk,
and by the time finally top out, we’re exhausted. We flop down in
patchy sun on the flanks of Mt Hesperus to rest and drink. When Mick discovers
we have a phone signal, it turns into a longer break. Our mobiles are quickly
out and we’re checking in with home. I would normally see mobile calls as an
intrusion on a wilderness experience, but this time it feels important to talk
to Lynne. We’ve had a tough family time over Christmas. Our 12 year old
granddaughter from Launceston has had a serious fall, and has broken bones in both her ankle and her jaw. She and her family have had to spend weeks
with us in Hobart, with numerous hospital visits, some surgery, and a lot of
My usual role in
this sort of situation is to be positive, to look for solutions, to jolly
everyone along. But a couple of days away from it all has helped me to realise that deep
down I too have been anxious about my granddaughter. And I’ve added to that anxiety
by taking on this physical challenge in the Arthurs. I get to say this to both
Lynne and my daughter, and it feels good to better understand the source of
those letter A feelings that have inhabited my stomach.
[Wildflowers near Mt Hesperus]
[Massed flowering of Tasmanian purplestar]
complete, we don our packs and meander around and over Mt Hesperus. From there
we angle steeply down through a burned-out area. The fires have been kind to some
of the plants, and especially the Tasmanian purplestars, which are flowering more
profusely than I’ve ever seen. We then sidle around Lake Fortuna, giving it
more than one “could we camp there?” glance, before finally reaching the steep descent
to beautiful Lake Cygnus.
[Finally ... Lake Cygnus]
By the time we get to the lake we’re exhausted again.
I take small comfort from the fact that my 30 and 40 something-year-old
companions are just as spent as me. Trying to set up tents when you’re in that state
makes for comical scenes. After a certain amount of muted hysteria, we get our
shelters up. Then it’s a quick meal and some vague chat about tomorrow. While apprehension and anxiety have both accompanied me today, I'm happy to add achievement to the lexicon. And then I succumb to the call of the sleeping bag.