There is something about steep climbs and claustrophobic trails that seem to attract me. I don’t go looking for them. It’s the destination that I have my sights on and it just so happens that the trails to get to these places are just that: nightmare climbs and hard pushing through difficult, head-high scrub.
This time around, it’s Anderson Bluff. located at the southern end of the Picton Range, somewhere between the Hopetoun Range and the Hartz Range, both impressive on their own. Behind the Hopetoun Range are the Eastern Arthurs, with Federation Peak sticking out at the southern end. The goal is to photograph Federation Peak from the ground that doesn’t require craning my neck.
Of course, as with everything in life, there is so much more.
I didn’t learn of all the incredible places Tasmania had to offer until I began exploring in my early 40s. I had young children and realised I couldn’t just head into dangerous places anymore. This meant, of course, Federation Peak became strictly off limits. People die on that mountain. I am still captivated by it and will photograph it at every opportunity. Aside from a flight that circled the mountain, the closest I have been was 20+km away, past the limit of my camera gear at the time.
Anderson Bluff is a mere 11km. My long lens, at 450mm, should get close enough to fill the frame.
To get to Anderson Bluff requires navigating forestry roads out the back of Geeveston, in Southern Tasmania. There are two trails close to one another: Mount Picton Track, with the obvious destination; and Square Tarn Track. Whilst neither track is obvious, they both have a clear starting point if you know where to look.
The first part of the trail is a fairly steep climb through rainforest. It is dense and quiet and relatively dark, as rainforests can be.
When the rainforest clears, there is a brief moment for a view to the north-east through rolling hills and valleys. Brief, because before you know it, you’re into tightly packed melaleuca. And if you know melaleuca, you’ll know it doesn’t budge for much. Most of this was waist to head high and close enough to grab our packs from both sides. A day pack would have been okay, if we weren’t staying the night.
Once we reached the crest of the hill, the landscape opened up, giving us clear views of the Bluff and Mount Picton to the north. Before us lay a gorge lined by cliffs that looked like melted chocolate. A magnificent waterfall was blowing in the wind. Our camp at Square Tarn was on the other side of the gorge, tantalisingly close. Even still, we sat on the edge an ravenously ate our lunch before descending to the narrow saddle which led to the other side.
For most of the way, the trail was only obvious for about two metres ahead, so hidden was it by the plantlife. It was no different finding our way up the opposite side of the gorge, as the track squeezed through a gap in the cliff face that was filled with trees and bushes - all of which wanted a piece of us.
Before long, we arrived at Square Tarn, still in one piece, but tired and elated.
We found a squishy, flat area to camp near the tarn before exploring the area. The geology of the area is like nothing I’ve seen. It sits along the dividing line between the dolerite/sandstone east and the quartzite west. This small patch of geology is neither of these things, instead it looks like an oozy mess of conglomerate, with deep trenches fanning out, just waiting for an unwary foot. The ridge descending from between Mt [Chapman?] and Andersons Bluff appears to be a lava flow ending at the gorge. Square Tarn sits in a hollow alongside, emptying out to the north over a precipice down to the regular landscape below.
Being in a hollow, we learned about air flow. It was a windy night, with the wind howling above, seemingly passing over us. Only, aerodynamics says that sometimes the air drops down the cliff to the tarn, rushing past us, and other times it shoots overhead and swirls back in an eddy, blowing our tent first one way, then the other throughout the long, cold night.
By morning, the wind had abated completely, leaving the surrounding mountains encased in slow moving, low lying cloud. I put my boots on, grabbed a nut bar and my camera and headed to the precipice to shoot the mountains and valleys below.
Knowing we had a long day ahead of us, we wrapped up the photography, had breakfast and packed our bags. Once out of the hollow with the tarn, we dropped the bags and free-walked up the long ridge to the saddle above. The views, by the way, are extraordinary. It was an easy walk up, unencumbered as we were, with no plants threatening our progress.
At the crest of the saddle, we were hit by a blast of bitterly cold wind, pushing us back as our jaws dropped at the view of the Western Arthurs and Arthur Plains below. After shooting off some more photos, we turned left to climb the bluff.
We didn’t go all the way. After all, the goal wasn’t to climb a mountain, but to photograph one. And Federation Peak was standing proud above Hopetoun Range.
Photographically, I did what I could. It was blowing hard, so long exposures were completely out of the question. The tripod came out and sat down low with legs splayed out on a small outcrop of rocks. We did not linger long as I had what I needed and we were beginning to get cold, even with our sensible clothing choices.
If I were to rate the experience, I would give the walk a hard 5/10, the camp 7/10 and the views an easy 10/10. This is definitely an overnighter you should not do alone if you haven’t been there before. The trail is easy to follow, but the unexpected danger levels are high in places around the tarn area. If you’re an experienced hiker, I would not hesitate to recommend the effort.
Editing the photos
For the most part, the photos were easy to edit. That is, until I got to the Western Arthurs.
Federation Peak was approximately 11km from where I was standing. The rest of the Western Arthurs were further away. Even though it was windy and cold, it was very hazy and the light wasn't really coming through the way I wanted it to. In fact, the shots I took of the Western Arthurs, I didn't check my settings properly (remember, it was cold and this affected my judgement somewhat).
The photographs of the ranges were heavily hazed, similar, or worse, than the example here. Even with extensive editing, I've ended up with shots akin to those from the 80s. It's an affect I don't mind, but I'd prefer a better base image to work from to begin with.
Perhaps the best thing is to revisit these images, as I've found some great photos that I initially dismissed, such as the main image of the ridge reflected in Square Tarn.