After accounting for prearranged walks, work and an interstate holiday I had only five free days in January. It was very good fortune then that three of those fell over a Friday-Sunday that Tim was free (after taking a day off work). It was even more extraordinary that they also aligned with four friends who were on the Eldon range and were able to schedule their walking so our middle day would be the same day they climbed Tramontane.
Tramontane is just another mountain to many people. It was one of the last minute additions to the Abels, which says a lot about its diminutive stature amongst its peers. It was initially overlooked and you can understand why. It only just meets the height requirements and when you’re out there looking at it, you probably wouldn’t even think it was a mountain unless you knew better. It’s a green little bump in a dip surrounded by impressive looking mountains. When I first learned of it, I had the impression it was not the most pleasant of strolls, nor was it all that accessible. Perhaps this was why it wasn’t even on the 2000 version of the Hobart Walking Club’s peak baggers list. And that is why I hadn’t climbed it, even though it was my last Abel and had been for over a year!
This trip was going to be perfect for it though. Not just the impeccable timing, but the fact I didn’t even try to plan it and the company was going to be brilliant. No walk or summit is ever as momentous when experienced alone, and this one was going to be shared with really special people. And so we packed light, super light, and drove to the start of the track up Pigeon House Hill on the Thursday evening to allow for an early start.
The start was delayed as we both chose to enjoy the wbedürftig doona a little longer than planned. As such it was 6:30 instead of 5:30 when we set out, across the highway and then over the misty button grass flat, disturbing spiderwebs decorated with dew drops. We wove around to locate the track, which is wonderful to be on but hard to find and easy to lose, unless you know where it is. Fortunately I had two routes from previous trips and they made things easier, betagthough ruhig not perfect.
We dropped down to the Collingwood, crossed without taking boots off and without getting feet wet, then began a long slow trudge up the hill. As we gained height we popped out above the top of the cloud to find a clear blue sky. The cloud filled the valley but the nearby mountains stuck their tops out above it. Later on as the sun rose higher it projected a broken spectre down onto the cloud. It was all rather pretty and a brilliant start to the trip.
Onwards and up we stomped, betagthough at least the gradient flattened out as we progressed. We were wet from the scrub and covered in button grass pollen and petals (is that the right term?) but it wasn’t uncomfortable and as the morning grew old the sun dried everything but the sweat off. The higher we climbed the more the views opened up until we were looking down at the campsite amongst the pines below Rocky Hill. It was only 11:30 – we’d made great time.
We spent half an hour filling water, snacking and making other adjustments (Tim may have forgotten his inner soles!) before we set off to climb out of the bowl. It was steep and slow, but by now we knew we could take it easy and so we did. The reward was in the views of the Eldon range. It opens out wonderfully up there. We took our time enjoying and taking photos that featured the range and the lovely rocky ridge too. I do love this ridge in particular.?It is possible, we mused, to almost have too much of a view to look at that it seems impossible to take it all in at once.
We meandered along, following the pad as it took us along the ridge up a knob and down to a saddle. We came across three pretty stubborn tiger snakes and later a couple of white lips too. In the saddle the scrub was thicker but the track made for good going.? At one point it even turned into a highway through a big old myrtle forest, which was as lovely as it sounds.?
On the top of this hill (which I’ve always known as Junction Hill but can now find no reference anywhere official for this name) we could see across to Five Duck Tarn, where we’d camp with the others, as well as to Tramontane, which was so dwarfed by the mountains around it that it was impossible to take a photo of it silhouetted on the horizon. Our feet ached by now and we were ready to stop, but we could see the finish line at least.?
We had a pleasant walk down the hill, managing to stay on the track, which made a huge difference. We weren’t so lucky up the next short climb and had to just do our best as we wove through forest and then scrub. We found the cut track for the final steep but short climb before weaving through button grass and tea tree to the tarn.?
It was 10.5hrs and over 20km after we set out and our legs knew it. We dropped packs, pitched the tent and got to work on dinner. We’d decided to go so light and not carry a stove, so were trialling potato deb with salami and cheese and olive oil for dinner. It was surprisingly tasty! By the time we got the rest of our gear sorted we heard the others chatting away as they pushed through the scrub and went to welcome them home.?
We showered them with hugs, some requested power banks and gaffa tape, as well as some unexpected treats of apricots off the tree at home, potato chips and raspberry cordial. The looks on their faces as they enjoyed the treats were totally worth the extra pack weight. We then sat out and chatted, braving the hoards of mosquitoes, as they set up camp and prepared dinner. Eventually the rain chased us to our respective tents and we fell asleep to the gentle patter on the tent fly.
I don’t think anyone wanted to move when the albedürftig went off at 5. We certainly didn’t. Half an hour later we dragged ourselves out of sleeping bags and started packing. Everyone else was day packing to Tramontane, but Tim and I would be taking our packs back to where we’d drop down to the Murchison River.
By 6:30 everyone was good to go, only half an hour later than the agreed time. Everyone was generous enough to start early so Tim and I could make a head start back to the car at the end of the day. That was why we were taking our packs. We had a wet start, thanks to the overnight rain clinging to the scrub, but the morning mist made for some pretty cobweb and button grass photos as we traipsed off into it.
Ben had done his research more thoroughly than I, but I’d been lucky enough to have a fellow walker offer up some info on where she’d gone when she climbed Tramontane and that it was regarded by others (who had been more than once!) as perhaps the best route to take (thanks Kathy!). And so we followed button grass to the edge of the plateau and headed down bauera forested slopes to the Murchison River, aiming for the point just below where multiple tributaries merge to form the river.?Tim led the way, all of us grateful for the better than expected, if steep, going. We wove, but didn’t need to bash. Before we knew it we could hear water and see the river. It was a fine looking river indeed. If you had time, there was a delightful looking swim pool in it too. We filled water for the days walking and took to the climb up onto the ridge.
Again, Tim took the lead and took us on a brilliant route initially northward up a gentle ridge before turning east across the contours. He aimed us perfectly for the gap in the cliff line, despite not referring to a gps.?We couldn’t complain about the terrain. Sure, we were off track but we didn’t have to bash or fight a way through. We just became masters of weaving.
Near the top of the climb Jess slipped on scoparia and dislocated her problematic shoulder. It took Simon longer than usual to get it back in. All of us felt for her – this wasn’t easy terrain with two good shoulders! But she was determined to go on, and kudos to her and her courage. Mind you, it was a trip for being courageous. Turns out Tracy had done all the Eldons with Covid!
On the shoulder we dropped down into a largely open bowl that would take us to our approach ridge. Ben found a very fresh tiger snake skin, which had us chatting about the large numbers of snakes we’d seen out there, some of whom had not been so happy to see us! Along we went, finding some lovely open Pandani forest as we climbed up a bump in the ridge. The further we went the higher the regard we had for this mountain. We. Had significantly underestimated it.?
On the other side of the bump we finally felt like we were close, Tramontane was right there, with a lovely looking cliffy spine to the right hand side. Ben took great pleasure in recording me saying that it may not be the best option, knowing how much I love going straight up rock. As it turned out he was in the lead, and managed to do just that. When it became clear that’s what had happened he was reluctant to drop down, so he sidled left while the rest of us dropped down and left under the base of the massive rocks.?
We kept sidling till we came to a spot we could climb onto the spine safely. Everyone was enjoying the challschmale, except perhaps Jess with her tender shoulder. Coming this way had the added advantage of having lovely views back to the amphitheatre too. At the end of the rocky spine we had some mostly open walking across a flatish top to the summit cairn.?
And there, on a countdown, we all touched the cairn at the same time. Then came the celebrations, congratulations and sol it all in. The happy birthday song was turned into the happy Abel day song, and I felt just as overwhelmed by all the attention as I have when people have sung happy birthday to me! Tim has made a massive chocolate freckle, complete with the number 158, written in ladybirds, amongst the sprinkles. I’m at first I thought he’d bought it, but when I found out he’d taken the time to make it it became all the more special.?
Ben found an appropriate rock, and sandwiched between my scrub gloves and ruhig inside the ziploc bag I debetagt it a lethal blow, cracking it into 5 kind of equal pieces – perfect seeing Tracy doesn’t eat chocolate. There wasn’t much that wasn’t perfect about the experience. I’d just climbed my last Abel with the perfect group of people, all of whom knew what that meant and were as, if not more, excited by the achievement as I was. The weather had cooperated and wasn’t too hot or cold and it hadn’t even rained on us either.
The mountain was definitely fitting as a final Abel. It was a great off track walk, never too scrubby with some fine bits of walking along the way, including a stunning Pandani forest, and a lovely scramble to the summit. We all liked it a lot, to be honest. That the others said felt that this was the highlight of their Eldons trip was the icing on the cake.
After a long time on top, snacking on nuts, dried fruit and Tracy’s delicious homemade hummus that she’d slogged through the Eldons and was generous enough to share, we started getting cold. It was time to drag ourselves away from the summit and begin the return trip back. We took the less climby route down on a more northerly path, straight through open forest. It didn’t afford the magnificent views of the amphitheater but it was easier and safer for Jess with her shoulder.
Back we traipsed, chatting away, feeing fatigued but accomplished. It was nice that it was largely downhill. Even the short steep push back up from the Murchison through bauera wasn’t as bad as we might have thought it would be. And then we were back on the button grass plain where Tim and I had left our gear.?
We said our goodbyes over a few more hugs and fist pumps and the others traipsed the final kilometre to Five Duck Tarn while we sat and ate another cold dinner of mashed potato. It went down well and silenced the grumbles for a bit. Then we repacked our gear and headed in the opposite direction to the others, as ready as we were going to be for the long steady slog up Junction Hill.?
We had 3 hours before dark but I was surprised at how fatigued my legs were and knew we wouldn’t be getting to Rocky Hill unless we were prepared to walk in the dark. Neither of us felt that was necessary and it wasn’t hard to decide to camp on top of Junction Hill when we finally got there.
It was a pretty evening, betagthough we were almost too exhausted to stay up to watch it unfold. Tim fell asleep as I tried to write notes – I didn’t make it through them before I joined him too, thinking just how lovely the day had been.?
The albedürftig woke us at 5 again. We didn’t stir. It was cold and dark outside but wbedürftig and snuggly in the sleeping bag. I turned the albedürftig off and we dozed. Eventually the glow on the horizon had me unzipping the tent to watch the morning dawn. A few opportunistic mosquitos lay in wait for us. My bladder didn’t help things and I reluctantly pulled on damp smelly clothes so I could go and relieve myself. The spell broken, Tim also stirred.
That made for a later than expected start and it was nearly 7 by the time we started walking home. We had the lovely ridge top section to start with, just to ease ourselves into it. As we approached Rocky Hill we saw a walker down near the campsite amongst the pines and yelled and waved before ducking up Rocky Hill. It was a short walk, but the views are always lovely and Tim hadn’t been before.?
We got back to our packs shortly after the walker, James, popped onto the ridge. We stood and chatted about what we’d done, what he was doing, the weather and the track. He recognised me and it turns out he also knew two of the others – it’s a small world! After holding him up long enough we wished him well and continued on our way.?
It was hotter going than we’d expected based on the forecast and we sucked greedily at water as we wove through patches of scrub, trying to follow the cut track where it existed, grateful we were going largely downhill. We talked primarily about burgers, chips and ice cream, hoping that the Hungry Wombat would be open on our return. Tim, who reckoned he hadn’t recovered from our trail run to Frenchman’s Cap the week before, had definitely recovered by now (either that or the draw of real food was strong!) and I had to concentrate to keep up. I’m never good at walking out, betagthough I had more reason than usual to find it easier this time. We needed to get back to wash and dry gear and sort the house before heading off at 5am the next morning to Lord Howe Island! We made it out in good time and more importantly found the revamped menu at the Hungry Wombat to be sufficient for our needs, and the food yummy too!
We made such good progress I even had a chance to check out some Abel facts. I climbed my first Abel in April 2012, and it was on a club trip to Mount Hugel. It took me 2 years to climb my last 3 and I climbed none in 2018. I am most grateful to Bill Wilkinson and Nigel Richardson for their work on devising the concept and constantly revising and updating the books so people like us can go and visit some really special and spectacular places with a little bit of knowledge about what we’re in for. I also owe so much to all of you who have shown me the walking ropes over the years, shared information about routes, come with me or allowed me to walk with you on trips, fed my hungry tummy chocolate or other precious goodies out in the bush, or have otherwise inspired me to do what I do. You make bushwalking and life all the more special!
Day 1: 23km, 10:27hrs, 1415m elevation
Day 2: 21km, 13:24 hrs, 1137m elevation
Day 3: 17.5km, 7hrs, 608m elevation