I was pretty excited to get out and do some hiking in Australia for my trip back over in January. The week before the Three Capes Track, Mum and Dad wanted to take a shot at the Mount Anne Circuit in South West National Park in Tasmania. They’d been wanting to do this one for a while but were always waylaid by bad weather (notorious in this part of the world). After it was suggested, as soon as I saw some photos of Mount Anne and read a few trip reports I was in.
Mount Anne is the highest mountain in Tasmania’s South West. At 1425m it doesn’t seem like a very imposing mountain but the view of the range and from the summit is nothing short of spectacular. The circuit which includes a summit of Mount Anne as a side trip is typically done over 4 days and follows the ridge along an ancient glacial cirque that surrounds Judd Lake.
As the circuit doesn’t start and end in the same place, they are separated by 9km along the entrance road. We got dropped off at the trailhead at Condominium Creek by Andrew who would be taking the car while we were walking. The swampy trailhead was full of mosquitos so we rushed to get ready and leave the hungry pests behind. Like a lot of trails in Tasmania, it starts with a boot cleaning station to prevent the spread of disease to the native flora and keep out invasive species.
The trail started flat for about 2 minutes before heading straight up the shoulder of Mount Eliza the first peak in the cirque’s ridgeline, at a gradient that wouldn’t give up for most of the day. The weather was beautiful, we couldn’t have asked for better. As we climbed we got amazing views of Lake Pedder and the Western Arthurs. The vegetation was pretty thick made of low-lying shrubs which gave us little protection from the warming sun. On the way up we stopped for a couple of rests, before making it to High Camp. High Camp Cabin is half a kilometer under the summit of Mount Eliza and is a small stone structure built for shelter and has surrounding campsites. We stopped here to fill water from the rain tank, eat lunch, and read through the cabin visitors’ book. Not sure this was the best idea as I started reading about how many people failed to reach the summit of Mount Anne or couldn’t complete the circuit because of the dreaded section know as ‘The Notch’. I started feeling a little anxious about some of the climbing to come.
We set off on the trail and the gradient increased yet again. Now instead of a trail, we were following cairns and pulling ourselves up large boulders. The Mount Anne cirque is geologically unique because it is red dolerite on top of a white quartzite base. These boulders marked the beginning of the quartzite which we would be on for the next few days. As I pulled myself (and my heavy 4-day pack) over the boulders I started to realize how dangerous this trail would be if the weather was bad, it was hard to follow even when we could see.
Finally, we made the summit of Mount Eliza where we took many photos of the beautiful view and had a celebratory fruit tingle before continuing along the ridge towards Mount Anne. Now in the high alpine, we started seeing small tarns, cushion plants and pandanus palms giving the landscape a Jurassic theme. It was 2km from the summit of Mount Eliza to the fork in the trail with the Mount Anne summit trail. From a detour off the path along this ridge, we got our first views of Lake Judd 400m below the dolerite cliffs. As we continued towards the nights camp, we had to skirt Eve Peak which meant more boulder hopping. This was proving to be a pretty exhausting task keeping balance with the heavy packs as you moved from rock to rock. I was tired and happy when we reached the junction of the Mount Anne summit trail. We looked down and saw the camp for the day with one other tent already set up. It took about 15 minutes to walk down to Shelf Camp where we set up our camp for the night.
Shelf Camp was an amazing place to spend a night, we were incredibly lucky with the calm weather because it is high and very exposed the wind can rip right through it. The location provides great views of Mount Anne and Mount Lot. To the north, it seems like an endless drop into the valley below and the cliffs of Eve Peak loom over to the south. The tent sites are rock slabs so you need to set up tents without pegs (there was plenty of small rocks around to help) and there was a very small running stream we used for water. The camp is also surrounded by tarns which we took a dip in to wash off the days’ efforts before dinner. An early night was had by all of us to prepare for an early wake up to attempt the summit of Mount Anne the next day.
I woke early on day 2 and I was able to watch the sunrise over Mount Lot while packing up camp. The weather was just as stunning as the day before, no wind, blue skies and we could tell early it was going to be warm. We started out backtracking along the trail from the day before, heading for the Mount Anne summit junction. We were all appreciative of being able to carry our day packs and leaving the heavy ones back at Shelf Camp. We followed the trail, getting amazing views towards Lot’s Wife and down the Lake Pedder in the other direction. We boulder hopped following the cairns until we got to the bottom of the summit block. Here was the hardest part of the trail. The route was pretty exposed requiring scrambling up 3m chimneys, traversing to the left, then up a very exposed 3m shelf (thankfully with bomber handholds) followed by a traverse right over some rock slabs which had a little bit of water running over them. The route then goes over boulders along the exposed southeast ridge to lead up to the summit. Overall it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be after reading people’s description in the logbook the day before and when we reached the summit I was surprised there wasn’t anything worse. Having said that in worse weather conditions it would be much harder and I can see why people would turn away. The views were amazing from the top and we spent some time taking photos and soaking it all in. We took the descent off the summit block carefully and made it down with no issues.
Back at shelf camp we picked up our heavy gear and started heading off towards the next bit of anxiety ‘The Notch’. The trail was all steep up and downs, muddy in sections, involved a lot of scrambling and required taking off and lowering packs in certain sections. We were mostly on the north side of the ridge but we did climb to traverse across it on a narrower section to give amazing views down to Jude Lake almost 400m below. Back on the north side of the ridge, the trail leading up to The Notch was easy enough to follow. The Notch itself is a saddle with steep dropoffs to both sides. It is important to climb up above The Notch as you approach it for the safest route. Again when we got there it was not as bad as I was expecting from everything I’d read. Some people choose to use a rope to haul packs but we managed to do it without. First, we descended into The Notch via very steep steps to the bottom where it’s level but with steep drop-offs on either side. Next, we were faced with going up again but this time it was not possible to step up and some climbing moves were required. The first being a chimney you have to stem across to the right side followed by a ledge that’s very exposed with a drop off to either side. There isn’t any great hand holds here so we took off our packs lifting them up first before pushing ourselves up using a move that’s not quite a mantle but one that I like to compare with getting out of a swimming pool.
The anxiety of The Notch and was lifted and we continued on the trail which was headed for the summit of Mount Lot. It wasn’t really much of a trail but it traversed the south-east slopes of the Mountain to start climbing directly up a steep gully. In this section there seemed to be two routes you could take but they both ended up in the same gully. The route we took (which veered to the right and down) had some areas of loose rocks you have to climb up. We definitely had to break on the way up these steep gully as it was pretty exhausting work, luckily the views down to Judd Lake were beautiful giving us something to take our minds off the heat, the climb and the hunger from not having lunch yet. Finally, the climbing was over and we reached the top of the ridge of Mount Lot with a short traverse to the summit. We stopped for lunch here after a measurement of the high points to determine which one was the highest and making sure we stood on the summit (in true peak-bagger fashion). Over lunch, we really soaked in the views of Lot’s wife, Judd Lake, Mount Anne and looking down to our night’s campsite of the Lonely Tarns.
Continuing after lunch the trail starts to head almost directly down the narrow Lightning Ridge. We said goodbye to our views of Mount Anne and steeply descended towards the Lonely Tarns. After a descent of 300m, the trail veers to the east and into the scrub. It now becomes an extremely steep, stuffy hike down through the bush to get to the Lonely Tarns. You had to be really careful using trees to help stop from slipping. Even though the humidity in the trees made it really sweaty going I was happy to be out of the sun for a little while. The trail eventually clears out of the bush, gets muddy and hits a ridge between two of the Lonely Tarns (Lake Picone to the north and Judd’s Charm to the south).
Camp for the night was at the east end of Judd’s Charm. When we got there I was so hot, and my feet extremely sore that I went for a swim immediately while Mum and Dad found a campsite. We had plenty of time to set up camp, get water and have a cup of tea because we started the day so early. As it got later it started becoming obvious that the weather was turning. Storms hadn’t been in the forecast but once we finished dinner it became obvious there was one heading right for us. The Lightning coming out of the storm front as it approached was pretty incredible, I hadn’t seen that many lightning forks from a storm in some time. We got ready for bed and headed into the tents early as soon as the rain started. The rain didn’t last very long at all and we were able to get out of the tents again after about 20 minutes. Once we got out of our tents we smelt smoke and saw a fire had started from a lightning strike far to the east of us. We didn’t really know if we could do anything about this, it did seem really far away but we were concerned that we were probably the only ones that knew about this fire. The sun set and we went to bed. I got up again after it was dark to look out to the fire again and saw the red glow of the flames and I started to worry about it a little. Not really sure what we should do I went to bed.
We woke in the morning to extremely smokey skies and the smell of burning. Mum’s hope of a side trip to climb Lot’s Wife was dashed with this as Dad and I both deemed it to not be worth it with the poor visibility (not to mention being pretty tired from the activities from the day before). We did take a small detour to Lake Picone in the morning which was lower in elevation and much marshier than Judd’s Charm. The view here was incredibly smokey and if anything it seemed to be getting worse.
We went back to pick up our bags from last Judd’s Charm and we decided to send a message to Andrew on the inReach to keep us informed about fires in the area. The smokey conditions had us a little concerned, not knowing if there were any closer than the one we saw start the light before. We continued on the trail which climbed past some more tarns and gained elevation once again joining back to the ridge which was an open plateau on the North side of Mount Sarah Jane. The views down to Judd Lake were very hazy due to the smoke and we couldn’t see Mount Anne at all. Here we got some phone reception and we looked for information on the fires. Nothing was really apparent so we continued on our way.
The trail continued and got incredibly muddy, passing more lonely tarns on the way around the east face of Mount Sarah Jane. The scrub was thick and spikey and my legs (which were sunburnt) were not loving it. I was very jealous of Mums long gaiters which I’m sure would have been protecting her from the spikes. Just before the turnoff to Mount Sarah Jane summit, there was a boardwalk section which needs to be extended as you had to hop over some huge mud sections to get to it.
When we got to the track junction with the Sarah Jane summit trail we decided to take our lunch to the summit. The trail to the summit was boulder covered and there wasn’t really a clear path, we had to just follow cairns to the top. There wasn’t anything very exposed and the boulders were big enough we didn’t have to be consered about rockfall. We got some views from the summit but they were very obscured by smoke and haze. As we were eating lunch we heard helicopters and finally saw one. It was flying low around the ridge and appeared to be flying above the circuit. We decided it must be looking for bushwalkers like us. It flew around the summit of Mount Anne, circled The Notch then the summit of Mount Lot. It then circled Lot’s Wife, Judd’s Charm and along the east side of Mount Sarah Jane. We thought it would circle the summit of Sarah Jane but it became apparent it wasn’t going to. We had phone reception again and we called the state fire department. They were able to tell us where the fires were. There were several new fires across the state but near us, there was one on Mount Eliza (from day 1) and one near the Anne River (which we were set to cross the next day). They didn’t advise us to change our plan but said not to hesitate to press our SOS button if we got too close. This didn’t fill any of us with confidence but we headed down off the summit hoping the helicopter might do another lap and see us.
When we reached our packs we were still wondering what we should do. We knew the next section of the trail was to descend through a lot of scrub to get down to Judd Lake so we wouldn’t be visible if the helicopter was looking for us. Luckily our answer came quickly, we received a call from Andrew who had been in contact with the Parks Service. He informed us that the Mount Anne Circuit was being evacuated and we needed to contact the parks service to let them know where we were. It really was lucky we had reception and were able to call and give our GPS coordinates. We were on an open plateau so they told us to stay there and put bright things out on the ground so the helicopter could find us. Mum and Dad had some bright orange garbage bags they use to waterproof their pack which we laid out on the ground. Within about 15 minutes the helicopter we saw before was landing in front of us and we were loaded into the back.
We didn’t have a car at the trailhead so we were taken to the Parks Service Headquarters at Mount Field National Park where they were basing the evacuations from. We learned here how widespread the fires were from the storm the night before. It seemed to completely cover the southwest of the state and they were still finding them. Because of this they were closing access and evacuating many trails in the area. After completing some paperwork we were given campsites in the campground to stay for our final night, arranging with Andrew to meet us there the next morning. It was so weird to go from complete wilderness to sitting in an office with a cappuccino in about 20 minutes. We were quite the celebrities in the campground that evening with many people having seen us get out of the helicopter when we arrived.
Overall it is a shame we didn’t get to finish the full circuit, but it also didn’t sound like we missed too much. It was one of the toughest backpacks I’ve ever done and I am very grateful I could join my parents for it.