The Irenabyss Gallery - The Photography of Matt Brain

Greystone Bluff, January 2004

Southwest of Pedder - Part 3 : Greystone Bluff

Participants : John Mclaine & Matt Brain

Planned Number of Days : 15 Actual Number of Days : 13

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

Greystone Bluff rises above Piners Peak at Dusk.image
Greystone Bluff rises above Piners Peak at Dusk. Southwest Tasmania at dusk from the summit of the Propsting Range.

Ping went another tent peg, disappearing into the darkness. We had heard several now and the wind was getting stronger. It was around 2am and we were taking turns to go and look for tent pegs flung into the darkness and place rocks over the remaining ones. Outside the wind ripped past making standing up difficult.

It was John's turn and when he returned he muttered 'That should hold it!' He proceeded to explain that he'd extended his tripod leg and drove it into the ground to hold all three guy ropes. I relaxed my arms from their position bracing the tent poles gradually to make sure. The tent was still straining sideways but it seemed OK. I changed position to keep my body against the lower segments of the poles to dampen the more extreme thrashes of the tent.

The western peak of the Propsting Range and distant Lawson Range.image
The western peak of the Propsting Range and distant Lawson Range. Our tent is the small speck in the center of the western summit.

We had pitched the tent on the summit of The Propsting Range. At only 894m it is hardly one of the states highest peaks, but it is one of the most south-westerly high points in the state and its summit character attests to this: bare rocks and vegetation normally found on much higher peaks covers the summit - cushion plants and wind sculpted dwarf melaleuca. The Propsting Range has two summits of near equal height. The western most where we camped is a bald featureless head while the slightly higher eastern summit consists of rocky crags.

'Mares tails and mackerel scales make lofty ships hoist low sails.' The summer evening had been perfect but in the last light of day we had ignored the warning of the high cirrus clouds. Now we were paying for it with the noise and motion of the tent making sleep impossible.

As the early light of day crept across the sky there was a snap and the tent went back to flailing - this time it was a guy rope but next it would be a pole. We'd had enough now and taking turns to brace the tent we packed up our gear roughly into our packs. John took the two loads over the edge of the summit where a steep drop gave some protection, he then returned and collapsed the tent with me still inside before I wriggled out and we carried it over the edge to better pack.

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

The sky was overcast but as we moved toward the lower eastern summit, shafts of sunlit penetrated to mottle the landscape. We picked our way along in the wind and then dropped over an edge, amazed to be in near stillness again. We took some final photos and analysed the next section of our route - a steep descent then a complex series of knolls before Piners Peak.

The Davey River Valley from The Propsting Range.image
The Davey River Valley from The Propsting Range. Piners Peak is on the left of screen.

The initial descent was through waist high scrub before we dropped into a ravine with several waterfalls and climbed out onto a second ridge. Progress was reasonable until the base of Piners Peak and then we had to work hard in head high scrub before climbing onto two large boulders above which the going was easier.

After a short side trip to Piners Peak, the drab sky finally cleared and we enjoyed sunny views across Rookery Plains. The afternoon became pleasant as we picked our way down the rocky eastern slopes of Piners Peak, but we were tired from our early start and consecutive heavy days with our brutal loads (our camera gear alone weighed upwards of 8kg each making the packs starting weight around 36kg).

John Mclaine overlooking Rookery Plain in the Davey River Valleyimage
John Mclaine overlooking Rookery Plain in the Davey River Valley Davey Sugarloaf is the highpoint above John's pack.

Another short plain, a sharp descent and we were at the Davey River, right at a hairpin bend named The Deep Eddy. Who knows which of Port Davey's piners named that eddy nor under what conditions they saw it - the history of the Davey River Piner's is not as well told as that of the Gordon River Piners and Settlement point has been long abandoned. Their names live on though in the areas they worked - Doherty's Ground up the Frankland River, Longley's Ground along the Hardwood, Middle Ground between and... It was with interest that we later learned that Rob Daniels sister is married to a descendent of the Doherty's.

Shingle Bank on the Davey River.image
Shingle Bank on the Davey River. Piners Peak rises above the riverside tea-tree.

We worked our way up the western bank of the river, keen for a tent site. John had already seen a nice one and was travelling under duress but after our last call on the weather, I was interpreting the conditions as pre-front and was keen to be on the other side while the river was low. We eventually found a slow swimmable section just downstream from a shingle bank that would offer a great dinner site. We stripped off for the crossing but in making the short move through the forest to the shingle bank we both acquired several leeches.

A pleasant evening was spent with a small fire on the shingle bank. An advantage of being near a river is that the light fades a lot quicker encouraging reading in the tent and sleep instead of photography.

Breakfast in Bedimage
Breakfast in Bed John Mclaine enjoying his birthday at the Davey River.

Not long after John celebrated his birthday with breakfast in bed and an extra chapter of his book, the rain began falling. Although not enough to change the river height we were glad we didn't have to start cold with a river crossing.

The next few kilometres were buttongrass plains interspersed with bands of forest. Though we met some heavier scrub, mostly it was pushing though tea tree. Eventually the going thinned out and in heavy drizzle and mist we navigated several low hills before reaching the base of Greystone Bluff.

Davey Sugarloaf and Port Davey, from the western ascent of Greysimage
Davey Sugarloaf and Port Davey, from the western ascent of Greys Badger creek arises beyond the first knoll. Squalls obscure the De Witt Range.

We plodded up slowly, hoping the weather would improve however this time it was settling in. We took several last photos of the Davey River Valley as we ascended, not confident of a view higher up. The winds had moderated but the temperature was falling and it was becoming dark when we finally pitched the tent in a sheltered alcove between several large boulders.

John Mclaine ascending Greystone Bluff.image
John Mclaine ascending Greystone Bluff. Piners Peak and the Propsting Range lie beyond Rookery Plain and the Davey River.
Matt ascending Greystone Bluff from the Davey River Valley.image
Matt ascending Greystone Bluff from the Davey River Valley. Southwest Tasmania.

Our hopes of clearing weather were dashed when we opened the tent next morning to more mist. We made a slow start and then packed up, leaving our gear near the edge of the remarkable 'football field' while we climbed Greystone's summit. Occasionally the clouds would lighten, but we never saw the sun. We finally saw some of the views as we moved south over Scoparia Head and then Green Head to our planned descent of this mountain.

Greystone has a reputation for being difficult to get to from the east for good reason. As we descended Greenhead we were initially heartened to find a light pad and then stood impressed at the top of a cliff above what must be a rare stand of pure King Billy Pine. We continued down, curving more northwards, cold and wet through from the rain and vegetation.

The Greystone Bluff football ground.image
The Greystone Bluff football ground. Below the summit ridge. Southwest Tasmania.

As we descended the predominantly melaleuca and tea tree scrub became higher but we were making good progress when I suddenly noticed that ahead of me I could see temptingly shorter tea trees that were less dense. Fortunately I had experienced this before and to Johns dismay began forcing our way back up then across the hill.

Greystone Bluff.image
Greystone Bluff. From the ridge to Scoparia Head. Copyright John Mclaine.

About 15 minutes later after a short scramble we were standing below that point looking back up at an overhang with a twenty meter fall. The dense scrub could be seen extending right out over the edge and would have been a nasty fall once we had stood on it.

The White Monolith Range from Greystone Bluff.image
The White Monolith Range from Greystone Bluff. Southwest Tasmania.

From this point on the descent was through moderately dense horizontal scrub. A few steps then sideways over a log, under, around, over again. Never more than two to three steps before an obstacle. Some logs rotten, everything slimy - a cold wet job but strangely satisfying afterwards. With no way of gauging how far you have come or have yet to go the descent seems to take forever but we finally arrived at a sharp spur with a gully full of giant man ferns below us. We climbed into this and were pleased to find a clear path beneath them allowing us to make a more rapid descent.

Eventually we came out onto the Crossing Plains. The wind was back, tossing the buttongrass in waves but there were lots of sheltered options and we pitched behind a small row of eucalypts. We were both very cold and all our gear wet so we spent the evening huddled in sleeping bags - to worn out to bother with the brief break in the clouds later.

Our final day began with cool winds and low scudding clouds but no more rain. We made rapid progress over the plains, being able to negotiate good leads and avoid the thicker bands of scrub. We were making for the Dodd's River crossing that I had used twice previously to access the White Monolith Range. After the rain I was somewhat anxious that it could be a repeat of my first crossing however the fording was unremarkable and we enjoyed lunch before crossing.

By the time we reached the Old Port Davey track, the sun was out and by junction creek the weather was hot and we were walking in shorts, a dramatic difference to the previous day. In track mode now we made excellent time and apart from having to roll start my old Ford Laser the trip home was uneventful.

Copyright Matt Brain. Last Updated December 2011

Read Part 1 - Melaleuca to the Wreck of the Svenor

Read Part 2 - The Propsting Range

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