The Western Arthurs, Tasmania, Australia
Words and photos: Georgia Nelson
The Western Arthurs range is one of the most prominent mountain ranges in South West Tasmania – it’s only competition being the Eastern Arthurs, which is really just the other half of the ridge. It sets itself apart from others by the continuous jagged peaks and ancient glacial lakes that are stumbled across as you traverse the aggressive, majestic range. The first people to make this traverse must have been thinking, What the hell?, as it becomes more and more technical and exposed and less obvious to navigate as the days go on. The ridge itself is only about 15km long, give or take, depending on how many days’ food you have, the weather, and the state of your knees.
Access in and out is relatively simple, though a couple of days should be allocated. Once upon a time it took a timely 3 weeks due to access, but this was later improved and is now a 7 to 10 day walk that is very much weather dependent.
Access to the walk is via Scotts Peak Dam, which is about 160km from Hobart. A personal vehicle is the easiest option, but there are numerous guiding companies that offer bus transfers from Hobart airport or city. They’ll pick you up at the end of the walk too. Hitching a ride is a risky option, especially if you have flights to catch. I emphasise here that this is well and truly the end of the road.
The best and most thorough guide available is John Chapman’s South West Tasmania. It has a day-by-day written account, with plenty of maps. Don’t always trust the opinions, however, when he describes something as “steep” or “very steep”, which is most of this time – you should be thinking “vertical”. And do take 20 metres of rope, you’ll most likely need it.
Traversing this ridge is not for the average Joe Bloggs. Some experience with heights, rope, exposure and weather reading is necessary to keep yourself safe. I also wouldn't recommend traversing this alone. A couple of years ago I started the ridge solo, got two days in and a massive storm erupted on me so I hooked it out of there and back to the carpark. Having now completed the traverse with two friends, I am so thankful I didn’t push on, on the first attempt
The walk begins on the plains of the South West and gradually makes its way to the base of the fist big climb. As you walk across the plains you get to take in the mammoth mountains ahead. The weather moves fast around here so take the photo opportunities while you can. Ascending Moriane A takes a couple of hours and a lot of determination. Up top you get to soak in the views and stride along the beautifully made alpine track. The track is very well defined here but as the days go on, it becomes less so. Camping throughout the ridge is always on tent platforms that generally fit two two-man tents. Squeeze them on as it can get pretty busy.
Every camp is situated next to a lake, except one. High Moor camp is about halfway along the traverse. If it hasn’t rained in a couple of weeks you may need to eat lunch for dinner. My advice is to consult Parks Tasmania at Mt Field (you’ll pass it on the way to Scotts Peak) and ask them about the rainfall situation. Best bet is to carry all your water for that day plus a little bit more. It took us two and half days to get to the most committing part of the ridge and then we spent two days out on the exposed mountaintops. There were times when slipping, tripping or falling wasn’t an option as it was a long way down and you weren't coming out anytime soon. We had to get the rope out numerous times to haul our packs or lower them down awkward chasms. In those two days, we walked about 7km in total and it took us about 13 hours over the two days. Yep, if you do the math, that’s about 500m and hour. Like I said, it’s steep and technical. I also think a big portion of this time was spent admiring the views. Every corner you turn there seems to be a new lake, mountaintop or perspective. It is truly one of the most magnificent places I have ever been. Since leaving, I have been plotting my return.
We spent 5 days on the traverse in January, 7 days out in total. We had allocated 10, however the fire situation in the North West brought us back to reality when we woke on what was our second last day with ash on our tents. We descended Kappa Moraine the following day, cut across the plains and made our way back to the car via McKays Track.
If you’re a bushwalker, climber, mountaineer or general outdoor enthusiast then you must experience the Western Arthurs. It takes bushwalking to a whole new level and you’ll want to return as soon as humanly possible
This post originally appeared in a slightly different form over on Left Foot Right Foot, a repository of ultra-casual walking guides for Australia and the world. They’re still looking for budding walkers / photographers from South Australia, so if you’re in the area and know of a place worth exploring on foot, send them an email at email@example.com.
Text and images © Left Foot Right Foot.