Winter in the West

By Mingma Sherpa

Four years have passed since my first visit to the Western Arthurs. A two week bushwalk through the entire Arthur range, finishing with the summit of Federation Peak.

I moved back to Tasmania at the close of 2018. The widespread bushfires early in the year left many parts of the South West closed over summer. My thoughts turned to winter. My thoughts turned to the Western Arthurs.

I remember the traverse being a slog. Although I was carrying a 30kg plus pack with a shopping bag full of apples and fresh bread rolls. This time would be different. I was physically fitter and would travel light. Yet I still wanted it to be hard. I wanted it to be snow covered and iced up, like a true mountaineering challenge. The thought of it was almost romantic.


The plan was set for July, weather dependent, I had a few dates as options.  The actual dates came sooner than anticipated as a series of unplanned events left me with five days of fine weather. The decision to leave for the trail head made on the day I left.

With a late start, I was nervous that I would not have enough time to complete the trip in five days return. Knowing the weather would be favourable, I prepared mentally for big days.

Looking back down Kappa Moraine to the Arthur Plains

My first day of walking started at 4pm. Thirteen kilometres of stomping though the boggy Arthur Planes. My decision to do a clockwise traverse, up Kappa Moraine and down Alpha Moraine, would prove to be a key point of success for my trip. Most parties start at Alpha, finishing at Kappa.

The second day had me ascending eight hundred metres from the burnt button grass along the Arthur Plains and into the heart of the range. Mist swirling, low cloud made for poor visibility. I was doubtful that the blue skies promised by the stable high-pressure system would open.

The Mt Scorpio ridgeline

Once on the range, I was exhilarated to find myself in knee deep snow. Crampons on and ice axe out, I made my way around the low angled arete summit of Mt Scorpio. I wondered of the steeper sections further on. What conditions would they be in? I recall from my first trip in January, finding sheets of water ice in the Tilted Chasm.  What would I find this time?

I was in for a big day. A quick cold lunch at Haven Lake then I continued onto High Moor through the Beggary Bumps. Eight peaks to ascend, climb down and around. Leaving Haven lake, I was presented with rising cloud and a snow free track onwards from Mt Taurus. I couldn’t see much more snow in the direction I was heading, just thick bush.

The track was well defined, yet slow going. Scrambling up and over tree roots, boulders and alpine vegetation. Crampons stowed, ice axe remaining out as I traversed each bump up and down, finishing with the climb up the Tilted Chasm. To my dissatisfaction, no ice.

The ice axe remained out. I found it to be very useful in climbing the steep scrubby gullies. Is that a form of mixed climbing?

My second night, camped at High Moor. Also, my second night finishing after dark. A good overnight frost. Still, cold air in the morning. Above the clouds. Frozen socks. The weather was looking fine. A beautiful sunrise. A bluebird day.

Lake Oberon all the mountains east of the range from the summit of Mt Sirius

My third day. Passing over Mt Capricorn and Mt Pegasus, past the lakes of Ariel, Titania and Uranus. Admiring Lake Oberon by the end of the day from the summit of Mt Sirius. A photograph of the lake framed hangs in my living room. Taken by my friend Heath with whom I had completed my first trip. Inspired by Peter Dombrovskis.

Pitching my tent in a snow-covered saddle, the wind picked up overnight. Despite little sleep, I was keen to get going in the morning. Clear skies for the second day running.

Morning summits of Mt Orion and Procyon Peak. Skies so clear I could see all the mountains in the South West. Frenchmans Cap, Mt Anne, Federation Peak around to Precipitous Bluff. To the west, the jumbled jigsaw of peaks and glacial lakes I had passed through. To the east, the steep sharp summit of Mt Hayes and a promise of easier walking. Three more Ables to tick off on this trip.

A big day to go. The thought of walking all the way out. Better to suffer wet boots now than to have to walk through the knee-deep mud in the morning from Junction Creek back to Scott’s Peak Dam. Lunch above Lake Cygnus. A beautiful quartzite beach where tannin stained waters blend into the deep dark depth carved out by glacial action.

Beautiful quartzite beach with the tannin stained waters of Lake Cygnus

I was on top of the world. The fine weather made it delightful. I had put in big days to finish a day earlier than scheduled. Completing the traverse from West to East I found to be much easier. The dip of the rocky peaks made it so that I was ascending the steep sections, as opposed to down climbing.

As I descended Alpha Moraine, glowing pink rocks touched by the afternoon sun greeted me. Two hours down. Passing boulders moved by the glacier that never quite made it.

It was everything I wanted. I knew I had been witness to something special. I had been fortunate enough to pass through a land etched through time. I could visualise the folded quartzite peaks carved out by the glaciers. A time before the current flora. King Billy Pines that would be centuries old. Standing strong in the same spot, how many storms had they endured? How insignificant my presence is on the range for only four days.

Mingma Sherpa is a mining engineer living and working on the West Coast of Tasmania. He is conscious of the balance between industry based in an environmentally sensitive area and finds inspiration through bush walking, paddling and climbing in Tasmanian's wilderness areas.

All images: Mingma Sherpa

Article originally published June, 2019

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