The Irenabyss Gallery - The Photography of Matt Brain

The Folded Range and The White Monolith Range (1)

The First Attempt (1995) - One of the Hardest Trips I have ever done.

Participants : Kent Lillico & Matt Brain

Planned Number of Days : 5 Actual Number of Days : 6

Camera: Konica Autoreflex T (intermittent light meter) with 50mm Hexanon and 24mm Makinon Lenses, Kodachrome film (got drenched).

Note: due to the appalling weather, several of the slides are from the 1996 and 2001 trips mentioned later.

Sunset from the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmaniaimage
Sunset from the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania Looking west from Grid Ref: E429766 N5235556 GDA94.

It was September of 1995 (school holidays) when Kent and I ventured this circuit. I remember talking about it with Dax Noble on the Ben Lomond ski fields in August. It seemed an exciting prospect going on an off-track scrub bash in the south west in early spring. Well it was. Brutally.

The plan was to follow the Lake Pedder shoreline around to the base of the Folded Range, traverse the range, then follow a spur just west of the Folded Range summit south to come up near Lake Maconochie on the White Monolith Range. This spur is the natural watershed and was marked white for 'clear' on the 1:100,000 map - the only map available at the time. We would then walk east out over the Monoliths, and out via the Old Port Davey track to Scotts Peak Dam car park.

Kent and I had a lot of scrub bashing between us, having knocked off some of the more remote peaks on the peak baggers guide such as The Spires, Mt Shaula, & The Eldons. I was 16 and failure was not something I had experienced. Kent perhaps should have known what to expect, but never one to be persuaded I think I would have wanted to go anyway.

Shoreline Rock Erosion, Lake Pedder.image
Shoreline Rock Erosion, Lake Pedder. Southwest Tasmania.

View The Folded Range in a larger map

We left Kent's trusty Nissan Bluebird at Scott's Peak Dam around lunch time and followed the Port Davey track for the first few kilometres before turning off to pass south of Red Knoll and join the vestiges of the old track that used to run to the beach on Lake Pedder before they drowned it. The first creek below Red Knoll was a muddy crossing but after that it was pleasant walking in the low slanting afternoon light, mainly in button grass, occasionally on the gravel shore of the lake where it wasn't too muddy.

Eastern Edge of the Folded Range.image
Eastern Edge of the Folded Range. A button grass ridge snakes westward to end abruptly at the first highpoint.

We arrived at the base of the Folded Range at that awkward time of the after-noon when it is too early to stop, but a big step to the next bit of flat ground before sunset around 5:40. We pushed on finding the ascent ridge clad predominantly with sedges and that unique slippery southwest slime. After a pause at some prominent rocks we continued to the eastern edge of the range. From here, the ridge snakes westward toward the first high point and we made camp amidst button grass clumps below a small knoll. The first warning signs were apparent here - at an elevation of only 710m (E434521 N5236226, GDA94) we were melting snow for water. I remember looking out the tent door and seeing a lone car driving along the Scott's Peak Dam Road in the dusk before mist encircled us.

At that time I was using a Macpac Neve sleeping bag. This is a great bag (in summer) that saves weight by having no down on the back but instead a sleeve to slide a ground mat into. I can't remember if I owned a thermarest at that point or was using a foam mat but it was cold and I had to wear lots of clothes.

Mist below the Folded Range Highpoint.image
Mist below the Folded Range Highpoint. Near the highpoint, more alpine vegetation makes progess easier.
Dax below the first highpoint.image
Dax below the first highpoint. This drop lies at the end of a gulch in the cliff and requires a rope to lower the packs. It was treacherous in the snow of our first attempt.

Next morning a cold southerly breeze blew over the tops as we started toward the first high-point. The gradually steepening button grass led to a rocky summit (E434136 N5235688, GDA94) and here the mist came in and the pain started. The first drop was steep - a 2m wide gulch in a cliff face with head high stiff scoparia in your face, catching your pack and flicking the snow down your neck, knee deep snow on the ground and then a roped descent for packs at the bottom then a traverse pushing through scrub in snow and away we went, up and down, along the range.

Although the new 1:25,000 map shows it well, this wasn't available then and we were navigating pre GPS off a 1:100,000 map.

The Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania.image
The Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania. Looking east along the highpoints from E430220 N5235699 GDA94. This was taken on the second trip - we climbed every highpoint without any view on the first trip.

We knew we were on the Folded Range but that was about it. Not knowing which was the highest point, we climbed every high point. Frozen feet, frozen hands, torn over-pants, unyielding scoparia, snow, mist and no sign of any pad to follow.

We made camp somewhere around 1:25,000>742m (E430225 N5235252) , I can't be sure exactly where, only that we had passed all the major high points as next morning the mist cleared briefly and we could see the ridge to Maconochie ahead and the spires of the summits behind us.

The next day began better - there was less snow on the ground and it was easier walking through button-grass clumps down open leads until we clambered onto point (E427775 N5235598 GDA94). From here the button grass became uncomfortably higher and it was either push between waist high clumps or hop from clump to clump (either way chews up energy with a full pack). The clumps were interspersed with taller banksia, but this was only the prelude. Over a rocky spur it began - a steep descent with every botanical difficulty the southwest can hit you with.

From the Western End of the Folded Range, Looking to Mt Maconochie.image
From the Western End of the Folded Range, Looking to Mt Maconochie In the middle distance is the ridge joining the two ranges. The days progress was from here to the rocks on the ridge above screen center.

It started with big banksias that wouldn't yield or break. Initially these had buttongrass between them but they were soon wired together with bauera, the 1.5mm vine with pretty flowers in spring that forms a menacing 2 or 3m high wall when it can. It is usually easier downhill as you can throw yourself on top of it and fall or roll over it on the next bit. But eventually your foot or your pack gets caught and you end upside down (with your 25kg pack on), more so when it is growing between other sturdier plants. By now it was wet so that soon we were drenched and cold. As we descended it began raining again and by the time we reached the saddle (E426532 N5234618 GDA94) we were exhausted.

The Folded Range and distant Mt Anne from Mt Maconochie.image
The Folded Range and distant Mt Anne from Mt Maconochie. This image was taken on the 1997 trip to the Monoliths.

The south end of the saddle was a wall of bauera and tea-tree and my sodden pack became a cross between and ice-breaker and a battering ram, being repeatedly thrown forward then climbed onto to squash the tangle down. It was now late afternoon and by the time we reached some 2cm deep pools at (E426588 N5234098) darkness was falling and we slumped into our wet tent. I was so wearied that Kent actually cooked me dinner. Our progress for the day had been about 3 km, all our gear was wet and there seemed no end in sight.

The next day started the same way, more wet bauera, more cold. Keep moving or get colder. Short breaks, save your only half damp clothes for the tent. The cruelty of pulling wet cold socks, boots, trousers, and thermals over a body warm out of bed! I remember the joy of smashing out of some scrub into a 3m perfect circle with a King Billy pine in the centre that must have survived some fire that had made skeletons of its brethren. Those 3m of scrub free ground were such a reward before the unrelenting bash restarted that to this day I regret not having photographed it.

Lake Maconochie and The White Monolith Range.image
Lake Maconochie and The White Monolith Range. From the summit of Mt. Maconochie. The Western Arthur Range dominates the right skyline with Wombat Peak and Scrubby Peak in the middle distance. The sun-lit ridge in the center is where we ascended from on the 1995 trip.

Finally around lunch it relented. We climbed onto a more open top at E426801 N5233492 and followed an easier ridge with button grass and sedges onto higher ground. The weather cleared briefly letting us look back at the short distance we had come. We first saw Lake Maconochie from the spur at E426193 N5232738 and although the way down to it looked easy, we continued to climb to gain the range crest. Here we dumped our packs and headed up Mt Maconochie only to have the clouds envelope us again before we reached the summit - rather a disappointment after our efforts (but at least we bagged the all-important points!)

Corner Peak and Greystone Bluff.image
Corner Peak and Greystone Bluff. From below Mt. Maconochie.

After lunch we continued south over a shallow depression with occasional signs of a pad to Corner Peak. The summit of this peak requires a very small amount of rock climbing but there were now gale force winds buffeting us and in our demoralised state we actually piked and continued on. From Corner Peak around to the 976m highpoint (E 426813 N 5230714 GDA94) there were signs of a pad and we felt things might get easier but it petered out in more scoparia on the ridge to Stonehenge Peak.

Wombat Peak from Sculptured Mountain, The White Monolith Range, image
Wombat Peak from Sculptured Mountain, The White Monolith Range, Wombat Peak is on the right skyline with Scrubby Peak and Stonehenge Peak center.

We camped in a saddle beneath the henges at E427764 N5230188 again having the 'luxury' of snow for water. Escape was in sight, or so we thought and the next day we ploughed on again, heading through snow, pandani and scoparia over the southern shoulder of Scrubby Peak (E429116 N5230244 GDA94) before breaking out onto button grass below Wombat Peak. The remaining 3km of walking along the ridge crest to Sculptured Mountain went quickly and was most enjoyable as the weather cleared enough for us to see the surrounding mountains and the plains below as we traversed the large boulders near the summit.

Thinking we might have a chance of getting out that night we slipped and slid down the side of Sculptured Mountain on a predominantly button-grass lead to the plains below. We had identified a narrowing in the dense forest around Dodd's River where the button grass nearly reached the banks (E431681 N5228005 GDA94) and it was a pleasant but rapid march through the button grass plains in blissful sunshine.

The Crossing Plains from Wombat Peak. Southwest Tasmania.image
The Crossing Plains from Wombat Peak. Southwest Tasmania. After days of rain, the mist began to clear as we neared the eastern end of the White Monolith Range.

The plain ended abruptly at a sharp drop off around 30m from the river bank, and the pleasantness fell away with it. This is where things got dangerous. The rains and snow melt had left the Dodd's River in flood - a dark mass of water moving swiftly south to its meeting with the Crossing River. Foolishly we decided to attempt the crossing. We were cold, worn out by this wild land, desperate for home, and had no confidence in the river subsiding anytime soon. We had no communication device (light-weight EPIRBs and mobiles didn't exist then) and not enough food to return the way we had come even if we had had the inclination. We had both crossed flooded rivers before, but not of this volume. We found a place where the current appeared to wash into the opposing bank with very few sticks visible that might mark underwater snags and we were away.

Crossing a Flooded Wilderness River

The Western Arthur Range from the west at sunrise. Southwest Tasimage
The Western Arthur Range from the west at sunrise. Southwest Tasmania. Clouds cover the Arthur Plains on a cool winter dawn.

Opinions change with time. At the time, the advice was keep your rucksack on for buoyancy with the waist belt unbuckled and the harness slightly loosened so as to be able to get it off at any time. Losing your pack and ability to warm yourself and eat may be as life-threatening as drowning, if a little slower. Keep a pair of thermals on for some insulation and keep your boots on - it will protect your feet and allow you to stand on a sharp bottom. I am not sure about the last point if it is clear you won't be touching the bottom, because what you don't want is to be snagged by a bootlace or a hidden log - death. My advice NOW is don't cross a river like this. My subsequent experience in Tasmania is that you can nearly always find a log jam above the water level somewhere (there never seems to be a shortage of them on our river descents) although it may require a lot more demoralising scrub bashing along the bank to find it.

Last light on the Folded Range.image
Last light on the Folded Range. Mt. Hesperus and the Western Arthur Range are on the skyline.

The bank dropped away steeply, we were out of our depth immediately. The current had full control and we floated initially along the near bank to some immersed trees where we briefly rested. Kent at this point took his pack off and clasped it in his right hand. We then let go and entered the main current. It was terrifyingly fast and we shot off round a bend, Kent slightly ahead of me. Futile swimming motions of legs and arms just used energy but did nothing.

Suddenly I was at the far bank but it had a 2 foot drop. I grabbed a tea-tree that leaned out and was instantly dragged under by the current. I was convinced I was going to drown here but didn't let go and a second or so later bobbed up against the bank and grabbed a second tea tree, keeping my head up. There was nothing to put my feet or knees on and I was shaking with cold and fear. My arms were at full stretch and I couldn't pull myself out. My boots and pack were heavily waterlogged and pulling me back into the current. I couldn't get my arms out of the pack harness without letting go. This is the point where I got really scared.

Fortunately Kent had landed further down and by having his pack already off, managed to get himself and pack out of the river. He was able to take the weight of my pack while I climbed out and then together we pulled the now sodden thing out. I then set off like a mad man for the Port Davey track, smashing through the riverine cutting grass and tea-tree. I remember Kent wanting to stop and check the map and bearing, but I could see sunlight on Mount Hesperus ahead and was going that way no matter what. We broke onto the crossing plains, now in the shadow of the western mountains and charged across them. What brought me to a halt was falling waist deep in mud - a thing that normally happens on the tracks.

A few years later coming out of The Norolds we found a tent fly about 3km from here at the Crossing River draped around tree branches as the water subsided. The river had risen rapidly overnight after an incredible day of rain and was huge. We worried that someone had been camped there and been caught in the night by the flash flooding. A couple of weeks later a search was being conducted for a man missing on the South Coast track (early 1999). It may be coincidence but we then reported the tent fly and within two days his body was found downstream on the Davey River into which the Crossing flows. The press reported that he may have been attempting to raft the river. However, I am not sure he wasn't swept away in the night. I think I am lucky that I also wasn't found lifeless on the Crossing or Davey River.

We continued on and set a cracking pace along the Old Port Davey track but daylight was slipping away and the sun set behind Sculptured Mountain as we rounded the end of Hesperus.

Sunset  from the Old Port Davey Track between north of the Crossimage
Sunset from the Old Port Davey Track north of the Crossing River. Greenhead on the southern ridge off Greystone Bluff dominates the skyline. The De Witt Range is in the distance.

I think I intended to walk out by torch light but Kent couldn't see well enough with his glasses constantly fogging and we turned into the Moraine A campsite, pitching our tent in the darkness. It was a miserable night for Kent, his sleeping bag was saturated and I remember several times waking up to the sound of the foil crinkling as he re-arranged a space blanket around his body.

We arose early the next day and raced for the cars. The swollen Junction Creek was simply waded as we were saturated anyway and by late morning we were at the car. By afternoon I was on the bus back to Launceston, reflecting on the adventure.

The Folded Range Highpoint. image
The Folded Range Highpoint. This view is from the eastern summit at E429766 N5235556 GDA94. On our first trip it was not clear which was the highest point of the range.

The Folded Range (2001)

Comrade: Dax Noble

Camera: Konica Autoreflex TC. 50mm Hexanon and 24mm Makinon lenses

Dax and I returned to the Folded Range in winter of 2001. The weather forecast was for clearing weather but we were afraid our planned trip would be out due to swollen rivers. Unlike the last trip, this one was sensational. It could be thought I was insane to want to return here in winter but it gets in your blood.

High camp on the Folded Range. image
High camp on the Folded Range. We camped below the more eastern highpoint at E429766 N5235556 GDA94. Cloud filled the valley. The view is north over the Giblin Range towards an un-named bluff west of Right Angle Peak on the Frankland Range.

We followed the same route as my previous expedition, but this time with knowledge of the route and best of all - no snow. Our first night was again spent near the same site on the eastern end of the range.

On the second day, we were able to push along the range to the more easterly of the two highest points (E431505 N5234706 GDA94), helped a little by being able to sidle on the north side of the ridge around some of the high points. Mist and a little rain had followed us through the day but as we pitched the tent, the sun broke out to create a spectacular display of light and colour.

Dax shot off to attain the true high-point while I pulled out the camera and enjoyed the late afternoon light. Despite the cold and discomfort highlighted in the previous trip, this is the reward for climbing here in winter.

Looking west at sunset on the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania.image
Looking west at sunset on the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania. Dax was on his return from the high point in the center at this time.
Sunrise from the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania.image
Sunrise from the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania. Cloud fills the valleys of the upper Huon River. Terminal Peak is left, the Giblin Range center and Mt. Wedge and Mt. Field on the skyline.

The night was still and bitterly cold and my fingers were freezing as I arose early the next day for the sunrise. Dax liked the inside of his sleeping bag better but he missed another display of light and colour. The whole southwest lit up with the slanting light first streaking across the face of the rugged Western Arthur Range before striking the White Monoliths and Mt. Maconochie. Behind this I could just see the summit of Greystone Bluff, another even more remote goal that at that time I hadn't reached. I could trace the route that Kathryn and I followed in 1997 from the White Monoliths over Cinder Hill to Long Ridge spending New Year's Eve at the Frankland River before climbing over Remote Peak to the Frankland Range.

Sunrise toward Greystone Bluff and Mt. Maconochie from the Foldeimage
Sunrise toward Greystone Bluff and Mt. Maconochie from the Folded Range The Folded highpoint is middle right with Cinder Hill visible over its shoulder.

Brightly shining cloud lay in the valley between the Folded Range and the Giblin Range. The thick frost made our route slippery as we packed up and returned eastward. By afternoon it was threatening rain again and we retreated along the range, on this occasion, getting the timing of the weather right.

Sunrise looking east to the Giblin Range from the Folded Range. image
Sunrise looking east to the Giblin Range from the Folded Range. Mt Wedge is on the far left skyline, followed by distant Mt. Field. Lake Pedder can be seen below Mt. Anne in the upper right.

Camp on the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania.image
Camp on the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania. Remote Peak is center and the Frankland Range on the right. Doherty's Ground on the Frankland River is center bordered by Long Ridge.

Sunrise from the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania.image
Sunrise from the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania. Cloud fills the valleys of the upper Huon River. Terminal Peak is left, the Giblin Range center and Mt. Wedge and Mt. Field on the skyline.
Dawn on the Folded Range.image
Dawn on the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania.

Frankland Peak and Secheron from the Folded Range. Southwest Tasimage
Frankland Peak and Secheron from the Folded Range. Southwest Tas .

Sunrise over the Arthur Plains from the Folded Range.image
Sunrise over the Arthur Plains from the Folded Range. Mt. Picton is on the center left horizon.

Remote Peak and The Frankland Range from the Folded Range.image
Remote Peak and The Frankland Range from the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania.

Frost on the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania.image
Frost on the Folded Range. Southwest Tasmania. Greystone Bluff and Mt. Maconochie are in distance.

Evening over the Frankland Range from the Folded Range. Southwesimage
Evening over the Frankland Range from the Folded Range. Southwes Clouds hang in the valleys below the Frankland Range after southwest rain squalls. Remote Peak is center, Double Peak and Coronation Peak dominate skyline.

Copyright Matt Brain. Last Updated December 2011

The Irenabyss Gallery - The Photography of Matt Brain