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Western Arthurs. By Geoff Murray

February 24, 2021 2 Comments

Mont Dragonfly Tent, Western Arthurs Tasmania

The traverse of the Western Arthur Range in SW Tasmania is a stunning mountain walk covering some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in Tasmania, and indeed in Australia. I first walked the length of the range in 1990, and it provided memories that will last a lifetime. This was my 6th visit to the range.

Due to its location, it catches the full brunt of Tasmania’s maritime weather, and on one memorable day 30 years ago, I was blown over three times (while carrying a 25kg pack, I might add!) as I walked across the Crags of Andromeda in a snowstorm…..in summer.

It’s a place to respect, something that is a real concern lately as the Western Arthurs visitation rates have gone through the roof due to many other tracks still being closed after the devastating fires down here a couple of years ago. And many of the people now entering the range are neither experienced nor well equipped, something that I fear is eventually going to have unfortunate consequences. If there is anywhere in Tasmania that top quality gear is essential, this is it.

The forecast for this walk was hot and sunny, so I left my car early in the morning to miss the worst of the heat. The climb up Moraine A was still an absolute killer, especially at the end of a decent walk. But as I crested the final part of the climb, I felt that I was stepping into a familiar landscape. Raw, primeval and timeless.

I followed the improved track work until I was able to drop down to Lake Fortuna, where I planned to camp. Putting the Dragonfly tent on a nice dry spot 50 metres from the lake, I started cooking dinner….briefly. My usually excellent MSR Windburner stove made an unusual amount of noise before becoming silent. No flame, no gas. Unlike almost every other stove I have owned in the past, the Windburner appeared to be essentially maintenance-free i.e. not able to be disassembled. As I had planned for a five day trip, spending two nights at Square Lake, this was somewhat of a problem. One can only eat cold soaked oats and Clif barsfor so long….so changes needed to be made to my plans.

Rather than continue on, I decided to explore my immediate area the next day, camping a little further back towards Moraine A on the second night, then walk out the day after that. As it turned out, this was an excellent choice, and the walk was pretty successful from a photographic point of view.

The following day was cloudless and warming rapidly, so I packed my camp and made my way back along the range. My main concern was finding a pool of water somewhere not too far from a sheltered campsite. At this time of year, water becomes a little scarce on the ridge of the range but fortunately, I found a shaded pool of beautifully cold clear water 20 metres from a stunning one tent campsite. After setting up camp again, I wandered up to the summit of Mt Hesperus a kilometre away, to recce the location for this evening’s photographs. It’s always easier to plan for photos without the pressure of a setting sun and dying light. Satisfied with what I had seen, I walked back to my camp for a scrumptious meal of cold-soaked oats and a Clif bar washed down with Staminade :)

I was back on top of Mt Hesperus at 7.30 pm with 40 minutes to spare before sunset. Conditions were good and I captured some satisfying images. Despite being way too hot during the day, I suspected it would be quite cool after sunset, so I had packed my Mont Guide Hoodie to stay warm. Time and time again, this single piece of gear has been perfect for my requirements, whether it is keeping me warm at well below zero or keeping a cool wind out on a mountain top. It is one of my all-time favourite pieces of gear.

After the sun had set and the sky darkened, the thin crescent moon to the west cast a very faint light on the landscape before me. The fabulously rugged mountains became dark and almost unseen as the crystalline sky above faded into view. This otherworldly scene made civilisation seem a long way away. One person alone in the universe, standing on the edge of an invisible but very long drop to the forest below.

My first image showed a bonus that can only be hoped for, Aurora Australia or the Southern Lights. As the Milky Way streamed overhead, the Aurora pulsated to my south. I had a new camera with me (Nikon Z7II), and it was proving to be a competent tool with exceptional lenses, so I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the mountaintop alone in the inky blackness, which became even inkier after the moon had set.

By 12.30 am I was happy with my efforts, so I turned my headlamp on and made my way back to camp. A bit of time spent capturing the grandeur of my campsite, then it was time for a few hours sleep before another scrumptious breakfast.

The next day was surprisingly windy, although my campsite was very well sheltered. I recall memorable night spent in a beautifully sheltered campsite nearby that was only exposed to the north... and I had a ripping northerly wind all night. A guy line snapped that night (not a Mont tent).

The walkout was less than pleasant. Hot, march flies galore, and plenty of still sloppy mud to negotiate. But eventually, I dropped my pack next to my car, and the walk was over. Tired, but happy.

Geoff Murray Mont Ambassador

Aah, yes... the stove. When I arrived back home, I checked the manual for the Windburner online. Something I had forgotten (as I genuinely do read manuals) was that this stove had a user-resettable thermal trip valve if it went into under burn, which can very occasionally happen. Now I know :)

Gear used


2 Responses

Peter McKinnon
Peter McKinnon

March 01, 2021

Loved Geoff’s article on
the Western Arthur’s. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful place.

Ric Streatfield
Ric Streatfield

March 01, 2021

Excellent photos thanks Geoff. Yes, I am now 78yrs age and agree, the Traverse of the Western Arthur Range still remains one of the main highlights and greatest challenges of my walking/trekking life. I was fortunate to be a member of the Sydney University Bush Walkers (SUBW) club which traversed the Western Arthur Range and the Eastern Arthur range in one 21 day trip, …..back in 1963. No tracks or maps of the Western Arthurs in those days, and one can imagine perhaps what our gear was like back then!
As for the MSR Windburner stove, I bought one for my walks in Tasmania and in the French Alps back in pre-COVID days. On my first trip with it I had trouble with the safety valve switching off inexplicably about half way through the Overland Track. Luckily I could borrow a stove from people up in the huts every now and then. It was only when I got home that I realised what had happened….I had been using the spark of a ‘fire-steel’ spark lighter. The red-hot spark had been going down through the grid mesh and igniting the gas beneath. Thank goodness for the safety valve!! I have been careful to use a cigarette lighter flame to light it ever since, and the Windburner has been the best stove I have for wet and windy weather conditions.
Cheers
Ric

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