**NOTE** Federation Peak and the Eastern Arthurs are nasty. The track up Federation is extremely exposed and borderline for an un-roped route. Likewise, there are no escape routes from the Range so if the weather changes there’s no way out. Several walkers have died in the area, most recently in April 2007 when a walker fell to his death near the summit. Don’t go there if you don’t know your shit.
Federation Peak and the Arthur Range (either Eastern or Western) are amongst the genuine classics of Australian bushwalking. As The Abels: Volume II describes; “In bushwalking circles, Federation Peak is regarded as the most celebrated mountain in Tasmania… Its magnificent, abruptly piercing spike demands attention from any vantage point…”
It’s also bloody hard.
Five of us (Tasmanians and a couple of slightly lost Queenslanders…) had a crack at the full Eastern Arthur Traverse during January, with the goal of summiting Fedder. Me and a fellow Launcestonian started off at some ridiculous hour (4am rings a bell) so we could collect the southerners and make out way down to the start of the Farmhouse Creek Track by 10am, with a minor detour to leave another car at the end of the Houn Track, our planned finishing point.
There’s not a great deal to say about Day #1, and even less that I care to remember… It’s fucking hard. The track was muddy, overgrown, badly taped (several instances where tape would take us down a false lead and then promptly disappear…), and covered in fallen logs, demanding a constant contortionists approach to getting ones’ body and pack from point A to point B (Will and Becky fondly referred to this as the ‘Cobra’). We arrived at Cutting Camp at about 8pm, after a solid 10 hours walking and with one slightly-hypothermic Queenslander…
Day #2 started with a tentative “should be continue” conversation while sitting in the drizzle munching muesli and eyeballing leeches. This was quickly followed by an equally tentative “perhaps we could harden the fuck up…” So onwards and upwards it was, the notorious Moss Ridge being the first order of the day… Chapman mentions that “…some groups may need to haul packs.”, so you can imagine our excitement. As it turns out, the Ridge wasn’t too sketchy, and actually proved to be pretty fun, with a few stunning first views of the Federation Peak summit.
Following the Ridge we moved onto the slightly more relaxed Upper Bechervaise Plateau, where we dumped packs, set up camp and had a bit of lunch. Then it was time for the big one, and with clear, still and holding weather we promptly headed off for a crack at Fedder.
The track up Fedder starts off on the beginning of the Southern Traverse, which essentially links the Bechervaise Plateau with Thwaites Plateau and the rest of the Range. From the tent platforms we ascended steeply up to the base of the Peak via a zig zag track that clung to an almost-vertical slope of peat and heath. We then promptly descended (just as steeply) down the Geeves Gully; jammed tightly between the sheen quartzite walls of Federation and a neighbouring buttress to the south. The final section of this descent was particularly precarious, and we weren’t looking forward to coming back the next day with packs…
We then headed straight back up again, ascending Chockstone Gully to the foot of the Federation proper and the start of the Direct Ascent Route. My memory of this part is pretty dazed – I don’t particularly like heights or exposure, and the track has both in spades. My mental state wasn’t helped when we ran into a couple of fellow walkers making their descent, with a full rock-climbing rack:
“Were you boys doing one of the climbing routes?”
“No, just the Direct Ascent…”
Anyway, we continued upward and finally made it over the critical section – traversing a very narrow ledge for about 8m and then clambering over an out-ward projecting boulder, all about 600m above Lake Geeves. This is one of the few times in my life that I’ve experienced pure and genuine fear – the kind that makes you want to curl into a ball and cry, except you can’t, because you’re clinging to a near vertical cliff and if you slip you die.
Finally we got to the summit and, wow, I think you could almost say it’s worth it… 360 degree panorama of the whole southwest! The Anne Massif to the north, then Mt Weld, Mt Picton, Mt Hopetoun, the South Picton Range and Mt Wellington, the Southern Ranges ending with Precipitous Bluff towering over New River Lagoon and the south-coast, then the Ironbound Ranges, the Ray Range, The Spiro Range and the immense Old River Valley, a sliver of Bathurst Harbour, then the northern projection of the Eastern Arthurs with the full extend of the Western Arthur Range behind… Needless to say conversation instantly turned to prospective future adventures – lots of people keen for the Western Arthurs and the Southern Ranges, and me looking longingly at the Spiro Range and Old River Gorge (pack-rafting I reckon). Upon signing the summit log-book we were surprised and a little chuffed to find that 15 or so pages would take you all the way back to 2009!
After a half hour or so it was time to descend and avoid getting back in the dark. Not too much to say about this, except it was no less frightening that the way up… Dinner was lovely with everyone in a post-adrenaline buzz.
Day #3 saw us return to the Southern Traverse, this time with packs, and slowly make our way around to Hanging Lake. We stopped here (stunning spot) for lunch but decided against staying as the weather was forecast to turn bad in a few days and we really didn’t want to be stuck on the Range when it did… Pity, as I would have loved to climb Geeves Bluff. We continued on over Thwaites Plateau and through the Four Peaks area. This was the only time we decided to pull out the rope and pack-haul, and was generally a stunning and fun bit of walking. We then headed over The Gables, which offered a stunning view back to Federation, and continued on to Goon Moor, where we set up camp for the night. For those interested, the Moor is named after a bloke that did air-drops for the area’s early walkers, not after the ever-so-classy boxed wine…
We decided to make Day #4 a semi-rest day, and only walked a couple of hours past The Needles and down to the Stuart Saddle Camp. Then it was off to bed for a snooze before wandering up to The Dial for the most stunning (and cold) sunset of my life.
Day #5 and the forecast weather arrived…The last few hours walking off the Range were pretty hectic, with wind that honestly felt like it would blow you off the narrow and often exposed track. In retrospect it was definitely a wise move staying at Goon Moor rather than Hanging Lake a few days previously (solid call Nick S). The weather eased as we dropped down Luckmans Lead to the Arthur Plains, and we made our way to the Cracroft Crossing camp in chilly drizzle. When we arrived at the Cracroft we had a fair bit of difficulty picking up the track on the far side, as recent fire had caused some hefty re-growth. Eventually we found it though and set down to sleep.
Waking on Day #6 and we realised how lucky we were to have got across the river the previous night – it had risen about 500mm overnight! A frank demonstration of why you always camp on the far side of the river… We then headed off along the 25km Huon Track, which is mostly an old forestry road that goes up and down and up and down and up and down over a seemingly endless series of steep spurs. To be honest the only nice thing I can remember about this was a gorgeous little stream where we had some lunch. I think this was also the only time the sun came out all day…
Then it was back to the car, and a mosquito-ridden half hour waiting for the others to car-pool all our transport into the one spot, before a three hour drive back to Launnie and a hot shower…
The hardest walk I’ve ever done, but a definite classic!
Shot with a Panasonic GH2, Lumix 7-14/f4, Lumix 20/f1.7 and m.ZD 40-150 MSC.