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Ascending Federation Peak   -   19.06.2012

Between guiding trips on the Overland, Shelly (a fellow guide) and I travelled to southwest Tasmania for an ascent of Federation Peak. Originally we planned to walk in and out from Scott’s Peak over 8 days but Shelly was called into work at the last minute and only had 5 days to spare. Thus, we were forced to go in and out from Farmhouse Creek. Having only read the notes from John Chapman, a notorious sandbagger, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Other than the lack of views it sounded alright.

As a result of a 23-kg baggage allowance I only left home with maps for the Scott’s Peak approach and photocopies of the relevant pages in the South West Tasmania bible. Thus, we broke most of my remote hiking rules and walked without maps or beta for 95% of the track. Fortunately, we only got slightly lost a handful of times (I define slightly lost by not knowing where to go but knowing how to get back to the last trail marker; hopelessly lost is when you have no idea where you are or how to get back to a known trail).

So the walk in. . .I have one word to describe the Farmhouse Creek track and Moss Ridge. Hell. To call it a track is giving it more credit than it deserves; I’d say it’s a ‘route’ marked with flagging tape here and there, through mud bogs, overgrown cutting grass and more horizontal growth than you could ever imagine. The start is deceiving as someone went through it with a chainsaw (probably 40 years ago) to make the fallen tress more easily negotiable, but after a few kilometers of that it’s probably had no track work aside from the bits of coloured tape tied to trees, branches and tufts of grass. When the almost-20-km route isn’t an obstacle course of densely-packed horizontal trees covered in slippery moss, it’s either a vertical mud wall or knee-to-crotch-deep mud through tangled cut grass, over 2 m tall. Add the horrendous prickly vegetation (I’m still removing the tiny festering spines from my skin), a heavy pack and millions of blood-thirsty leeches and you have yourself the fastest approach to Federation Peak. Except from the very beginning and the 100 m or so of boardwalk at Bechervaise Plateau there aren’t 5 easy steps in a row. I counted.

Having said all of that, I’m so happy we did the walk and I had a great time. . .but I’d never do it again.

Until we got up Moss Ridge I only took a few photos of a spectacularly large mushroom and of our first glimpses of Federation Peak.

Shelly and the giant mushroom.

Moss Ridge is the one that starts at the lowest point of the valley seen here and straight up the middle to Federation Peak.

Here’s a closer look at the ridge while we were part way up. It’s still another few hours to camp from this point - way down into the gully ahead then straight up that peak in the foreground, skirting around the exposed rocky bit to the right.

On day 2 we arrived at Bechervaise Plateau camp with enough time and a weather window to make a summit attempt. Unfortunately, we hadn’t the slightest idea where the ascent route started. One of the pages I photocopied had the description of the direct ascent but was missing the last word on the previous page, which was crucial for finding the start. One little word - chockstone (actually, I had the ‘stone’ part on my page but not the ‘chock-’). From what I had in front of me, to paraphrase: go up a rocky step in the gully, traversing left then right up a ramp, up another gully, then another...and so it goes. That could be just about anywhere. I tried 3 “routes” up gullies and within 30 m they became very gnarly (I learned later that these are rock climbing routes). On the last attempt a sharp grain of granite blew into my eye, ruining our chances of getting to the summit that day and slicing my cornea for a good half hour. It also made the unprotected descent rather spicy.

Thankfully, the blasted thing worked its way out of my eye after several dunks in my Nalgene and the group who made it to camp before us were kind enough to put on a pot of tea for our return. I think there were 6 of them in 4 tents, which meant that our vestibules essentially connected to one another on the platforms - we got to know one another quite well during our time together as sardines. One of the hikers was there to climb Federation for the 12th time! He gave us the key bit of information that I was missing in my photocopies. The route up starts under a chockstone. The size of a Volkswagen.

The next morning Shelley and I woke up to another glorious day. We enjoyed the sunrise, ate a quick breaky then raced up the peak. It’s covered in cairns so figuring out which ones to follow was a bit tricky but, other than a few false turns and about 4 spicy moves, it was an easy enough outing. I’d go so far to say that it’s easier than any other part of the entire walk.

This photo makes the ascent look more scary and exposed than it really is.

View of the Arthurs from the summit of Federation Peak (Eastern in the foreground and Western in the back).

After lots of photos, a naked summit dance and signing the log book we started our descent.

Shelly coming down the last few steps. Note the giant chockstone up the gully. Also check out Shelly’s thermal pants. Both of our woolen bottoms held on by roughly 4 threads after our trip and were ceremoniously disposed of in the first public rubbish bin.

The walk out was hell. Actually, it was hell with leeches. . .and pissing rain. At least the forest looked its best.

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