The Irenabyss Gallery - The Photography of Matt Brain

The Propsting Range, January 2004

Southwest of Pedder - Part 2: Wreck Bay to The Propsting Range

Mt Hean from north end De Witt Rangeimage
Mt Hean from north end De Witt Range At sunset after the squall. Castle Hill is on the left above the De Witt River Valley. Southwest Tasmania.

Participants : John Mclaine & Matt Brain

Planned Number of Days : 15 Actual Number of Days : 12

Cameras: Linhof Technika IV with Rodenstock 65mm f4.5 and 90mm f4.5 Grandagon Lenses. Minox GL 35mm Camera (malfunctioned). John : Pentax 67 Medium Format Camera with 45mm lens

From the north end of Wreck Bay we followed a lead between the dunes that left us on the southern reaches of Lower Hut Plains. Unlike the processions of brief squalls that had characterised the last three days, the weather now deteriorated to a constant drizzle and the De Witt Range remained under cloud.

View The Wreck of the Svenor, The Propsting Range and Greystone Bluff in a larger map

John and I have a very similar pace in most terrain but on these extensive plains with the heavy loads we separated somewhat, keeping sight contact and then regrouping at major creek crossings if there was a significant amount of scrub to push through.

Isolated Hill and beyond to Nye Bay and the mouth of the Giblin image
Isolated Hill and beyond to Nye Bay and the mouth of the Giblin From the northern end of the De Witt Range. Southwest Tasmania.

At our breaks, we began to have more and more discussions about how to approach the Propsting Range. Our original plans had been to progress around the northern end of the De Witt Range below Mount Gaffney. John was suffering from the weight of photography gear and a niggling back strain, and was not keen on any large climbs however we had increasing concerns that this route would have significant undulations and probably more scrub.

We consequently altered course to bring us closer to the base of the northern end of the De Witt Range with the intent that should an easy lead become apparent we would ascend there and follow the watershed to the Propstings.

Around midday the weather suddenly cleared and it became hot, more over our pace slowed as we hit thicker scrub around the various tributaries of Alec Creek. A slow lunch was had in the shade at the edge of the creek, still debating the map, John was considering whether we should just camp where we were to give his back a rest however he was eventually persuaded to push up to the base of the range, so at the least we could reconnoitre the terrain.

This final corner of the plains was interesting as there were several gravel mounds and breaks in the buttongrass that looked distinctly like tailings from mineral exploration. For us it meant a break from the slog of moving through the thicker buttongrass plains.

As it had before, the De Witt Range started abruptly with a sharp ridge. The route up looked reasonably scrub free so after collecting water we decided to ascend. John was really hurting and was seriously considering the jettison of his tripod to lower his pack weight so we transferred this to my pack and loaded him up with anti-inflammatories.

Westerly squalls pass over Mt. Gaffney.image
Westerly squalls pass over Mt. Gaffney. From our camp on the northern end of the De Witt Range. Southwest Tasmania.

Our route followed a dramatic knife edged ridge, really only a couple of feet wide on top. It was hot work initially however we soon arrived on a broader higher ridge where a fresh wind greeted us. We became increasingly satisfied that this route was a good choice as the Mulcahy Rier valley below us between Isolated Hill and Mt. Gaffney had numerous undulations and scrub choked gullies that would have slowed us considerably and probably resulted in as much climbing as our high route.

By the time we reached the highpoint, dark clouds were rolling in again. We were pleased to discover a small mossy area between buttongrass tussocks in the lee of the high point, and we quickly put the tent up, managing to get under shelter as a sudden thunderstorm rolled through. We were sipping tea and thinking it would be a wet night when all of a sudden the wind and rain stopped and sudden magic of stillness and light came over the land.

Mt. Hean dominates the De Witt Range.image
Mt. Hean dominates the De Witt Range. The coast from Davey Head to Wreck Bay can be seen. Copyright John Mclaine.

We quickly pulled our boots back on and were outside to enjoy a magic golden light against dark clouds. Whisps of pale still mist hung around the higher peaks of the Propsting Range and distant Frankland Range. We could see Mount Hean to our south and in the distance Port Davey. Nearby Mt. Gaffney looked like a painting with the light sculpting every ridge. It didn't last long but had made the climb worth it.

Evening Light paints Mt Gaffney and Isolated Hill.image
Evening Light paints Mt Gaffney and Isolated Hill. From the northern end of the De Witt Range. Southwest Tasmania.

Under overcast skies we moved east next morning following the watershed towards a long ridge that arced westwards from Castle Hill. We feared the initial descent into forest would bring thick scrub but it was easily navigable sassafras and occasional horizontal and we were soon ascending onto what we would later name Naff ridge.

The ascent was relatively straight forward being mostly buttongrass which although thick and tall was no great impediment however at the top of this ridge we erred. The buttongrass became thicker being waist deep and although we could see it following southeast along the ridge, it did not look like easy going. Instead the plains below us leading to the Giblin River did look relatively open so we decided to head straight for it. We moved north up the ridge a little way and then plunged over the edge.

Cloud drapes the Propsting Range over the shoulder of Naff Ridgeimage
Cloud drapes the Propsting Range over the shoulder of Naff Ridge Southwest Tasmania.

Normally descending through scrub is tolerable - with the weight of the pack you can lean into the thicker stuff while holding it in hand resulting in a controlled fall that bulldozes a path, but here it was nearly impossible. The upper reaches must have been near cliffs at ground level however the ground was rarely to be seen - we basically fell through three meters of bauera to land on more bauera with a three meter wall of the stuff on each side. Amongst it was fallen tree branches, everything knotted together to be near impenetrable.

We worked and worked and as the afternoon wore on we became worried about finding any sort of flat space to pitch the tent let alone get to the plain. It was here that we named this place Naff ridge., an acronym for Needs-A-Fire - though obviously not while we were trapped in it; the bottom layers of bauera were so dry it would go up like a bomb. John was insistent that Naff be spelt with two 'F's.

We eventually made our way into a watercourse which occasionally had clearer runs but was a treacherous guide, being prone to slimy descents. We had multiple slips and on one occasion, after wriggling in the water lying sideways to get under a large fallen tree, I tried to stand but my pack caught then released accelerating me headfirst down the rocks. I stopped just short of a small waterfall, my ribs aching from being pushed into the rocks by my heavy pack

The northern Propsting Range.image
The northern Propsting Range. Hardwood Hill can be seen in the middle right.

Bruised, scratched, wet and slimy with scrub gloves and clothes rent we finally found the slope of the descent to be decreasing and the going became easier with stands of tea tree and buttongrass and fortunately only minimal bauera. Around 6pm we started getting glimpses of the Propsting Range ahead and we grimly noted a long clear button grass lead running down from Castle Mountain - a lead that we could have walked down had we followed the ridge to the southeast at lunch time.

At around 7pm we found an open sun lit knoll near the ever enlarging creek that had tried to kill me earlier. We were still short of the Giblin River but John was definitely 'over it' now and was keen to get ensconced in his sleeping bag and recover with his book. I set about cooking dinner - glad for it to be my turn as I was carrying a large volume dehydrated bolognaise meat sauce with pasta (for each night) which always left us full whereas John's meals were freeze dried packs that provided wonderful variety and delicious aromas but unfortunately not a lot of content.

Sitting in that remote valley watching the shadows silently creep up the surrounding ridges one wonders about whether here might be lost creature such as the Tasmanian Tiger. Although I would love them to be still roaming, I think the chances are low - I have sat in some of the most remote areas of Tasmania now and never even imagined one to be nearby and yet they were said to be a curious creature.

Castle Hill and the Breaksea Islands from the Propsting Range.image
Castle Hill and the Breaksea Islands from the Propsting Range. Mount Hean and the northern De Witt Range lie on the skyline beyond Naff Ridge.

We awoke late and sore to find a clear still morning and a sense that the day would be hot. Initially we followed the line of the creek toward the Giblin River however the clearer sections of buttongrass where we had camped soon gave way to denser teatree and banksia. We crossed the creek several times but eventually gave up and waded down the creek in knee deep water, clinging to the trees on the sides when it was too deep. In this way we finally found the Giblin - a small but deep slow flowing river. Following the sides we found a place to cross and had an early lunch, glad to be out of the heat.

With a short steep climb we left the river behind, coming out on a low spur that snaked northwards before ascending steeply into heavier scrub. After the prior day we wary of what this scrub might entail but after a few minutes we found ourselves in a stand of pure banksias with very little undergrowth. This was a very pleasant surprise and we climbed rapidly to a small highpoint (E407078 N5230497 GDA94) and were overjoyed to see steep but clear leads running up onto the Propsting highpoint.

Summit Cairn of the Propsting Range.image
Summit Cairn of the Propsting Range. Copyright John Mclaine,

Each at his own pace we ground up the peak, noting the transition from buttongrass to patches of open rock and finally alpine vegetation - evidence of the harsh winds that this mountain experiences. Though it is only just shy of 900m it is the highest ground in the far southwest, meeting the south-westerlies off the ocean before they shear past the tors of Greystone Bluff and the White Monolith Range.

After following the ascent ridge in a predominantly northeast direction, the final part of the ascent is in a southeast direction, finishing on a smooth featureless summit covered in cushion plants. We regrouped and having found a little pool of water between two cushion plants, decided to make camp before visiting the higher more craggy central peak.

South from the Propsting Range to Port Davey.image
South from the Propsting Range to Port Davey. The ridge in middle distance is unnamed. Southwest Tasmania.

The evening was perfectly still with clear skies and a good two hours was spent at the central summit photographing the scene and seeing the southwest from this unique vantage. Rookery plains and the line of the Davey River could be seen all the way from the Frankland Range to Davey Sugarloaf and we could see several options for tackling our next target - the impressive bulk of Greystone Bluff.

We returned to our tents on time to see the sun setting into the sea. The subtlest breeze rippled the tent out of the stillness. A few mares tails were lit pink by the last light. I commented to John that perhaps we should move the tent over the lee of the summit, however we had not seen a particularly flat spot, nor did it seem worth it. We fell asleep digesting Johns extremely spicy dinner concoction, wishing we had slightly more water.

Dusk on the Propsting Range.image
Dusk on the Propsting Range. From left, the vista includes Frankland Peak, Mt Anne, Cinder Hill, The Folded Range, Mt Maconochie, Greystone Bluff and the nearby Propsting Range Summit.

Continues in Part 3 - Greystone Bluff

Read Part 1 - Melaleuca to the Wreck of the Svenor

Copyright Matt Brain. Last Updated December 2011

Matt on the Propstings.image
Matt on the Propstings. A nice photo of me and the Linhof Technika IV. Copyright John Mclaine,

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