Discover Du Cane Range, Tasmania
IN A LAND of collapsing mountains and rock that corkscrews through the landscape, two adventurers squelch through a swamp littered with prickly scoparia. Their quarry sits atop a rugged ridge strewn with boulders: a jagged three-headed monster that presides over its domain. The path ahead is filled with obstacles that will test nerves and dexterity, barriers that will determine if they are worthy enough to conquer the three-headed beast of Geryon. The first test is Falling Mountain, which stands precariously stacked above the swamp. From here, it’s seemingly insurmountable and ready to tumble with the next gust of wind that blows across Lake St Clair.
Judging by the nomenclature along the Du Cane Range and its surrounding peaks, whoever pioneered this area had a penchant for ancient Greece. I’ve always been fascinated with Greek mythology and the hero’s journey, so the fact that my friend Steve and I will be traversing Mt Geryon, the Minotaur and the Acropolis, as well as skirting the Pantheon and Mount Hyperion, has me as excited as when I used to read tales of the mighty Hercules as a child. In my boyhood imagination, I always saw myself wrestling the Cretan Bull and slaying Geryon as Hercules was fabled to have done. Stumbling through this scoparia swamp is a bit of a reality check, however. It seems I’m more a bog snorkeller than a superhero.
Thankfully there isn’t a multi-headed serpent waiting for us at the other side of the swamp like there was for Hercules. Instead, a steep slope covered in pandanus, trees and boulders confronts us. I channel my inner wombat and weave through the forest, attempting to find the path of least snag. My backpack, laden with supplies for a week’s worth of wild camping, hinders the ascent; on more than once occasion I end up wedged between trees. En route I slash my nose on a pandani frond. Sweat pours into the throbbing cut.
The trees break and we’re regurgitated onto the bouldery slopes of Falling Mountain. We hop, clamber and shuffle across narrow ledges until we’re at the top. Geryon appears in the distance. It’s the size of a thumbnail, rendered a jagged silhouette against an orange and yellow sunset sky. There aren’t many places to camp, but we find a small patch of grass amongst the boulders and there’s water nestled in a nook beside a large slab. Camping doesn’t get much more idyllic than this.
Approaching for a much closer look at Mt Massif.
It sits on a sea of undulating clouds that ripple under dawn’s dominion, multi-coloured and surreal. If I were a superstitious man then I’d think the rainbow circle painted on the clouds like a bullseye was an omen. Brocken spectres, first sighted on Mt Brocken, Germany, in 1780, are circular rainbows created when the sun hovers near the horizon and shines from behind where an observer looks down from a peak into mist.
Except this is no Brocken spectre. These usually have the observer’s eerie shadow etched inside the bullseye. This one doesn’t. If this was an omen then perhaps I’d be slightly concerned; hopefully it’s not a sign that I’m about to disappear off the mountainside.
Boulders covered in orange, black and white lichen lay strewn before me. The rock grips really well, so I boulder-hop with confidence. Every so often I jump down onto huge rocks that wobble and push my centre of gravity in the opposite direction to what I expect. It’s enough to keep me from getting too cocky.
I hop towards the highest point on the range, Mt Massif (1520m), passing frog-filled tarns until the ridge narrows to a sheer tower of rock. I scramble around the northern side, which isn’t easy with the pack, before it gets too dangerous to climb with it on. Steve down-climbs sans pack and we lower our loads using rope before scrambling sideways on a steep slope. A steep, verdant gully leads to a plateau where we camp next to a tarn in an arena of mountains.
There’s a fine line between myth and reality. Watching dawn break on the Du Cane Range blurs this line. Clouds scrape the mountain like Nemean Lion’s claws, and the sun appears ethereal through a veil of golden mist.
The path ahead is one that requires much attention. Routes that seem plausible suddenly strand us on huge slabs with no way down. We skirt vast turrets, taking in undulating, mountainous panoramas and beelining towards a castle-like arrangement of rocks. This castle marks a steep descent into Big Gun Pass, aptly named for the huge pistol shaped formation cocked in the saddle below.
The descent has drops that are almost the length of my body. Things get less hairy further down where I zigzag on grassy sections between the rocks, sliding down on my buttocks. Geryon dips out of view temporarily, but we’re close to its triple-crowned summit.
Camping atop Falling Mountain.
Through a tunnel of whirling mist we clamber sideways up a steep scrub-covered slope. A huge slab of rock obscures the mighty Geryon, which stands facing the many lakes of the Central Highlands Plateau off in the distance. We pause, looking to the south over the tarn-dotted expanse of the Labyrinth, soon after which the Minotaur awaits. Mist continues to barrel in and conditions are getting gnarly. My imagination paints Geryon’s faces onto the clouds, their snarling expressions summoning this disorientating mist. It’s time to abort our summit attempt.
We descend out of the cloud and onto the saturated plains of the Labyrinth. Pencil pines drip with ancient wisdom. Pandani fronds curl back across the aeons. I imagine pixies hiding in Lake Elysia, popping their heads out of the water when we’re not looking and chuckling every time we turn around, just a fraction too late to spy them.
We pitch up by the Pool of Memories. There’s no white poplar tree here, as there was by the fabled pool in the Greek underworld. Opposite this pool, according to the myth, was the Pool of Forgetfulness where dead souls drank in order to forget their past lives once they reincarnated. This isn’t a trip I’ll forget in a hurry. Snow falls as I unzip the tent next morning. Steve’s outside, arms outstretched in childlike wonderment of pirouetting snowflakes in the middle of summer.
The weather improves as we detour to the Acropolis. The needle stack formations atop this mountain are covered in orange and black lichen and rise like totemic figures reminiscent of the Easter Island statues. Perhaps they are Geryon’s minions, or else steadfast observers chronicling the passing of time, noting each cloud, each sunrise, each gradual twist of this mesmerising landscape.
The Minotaur basks in sunlight as we traverse a series of mini hills before we’re scrambling steeply up its slopes, taking the bull by the horns. We hoist ourselves up using tree branches and rocks. I almost put my hand on a snake resting in one of the cracks, noticing it just in time and pulling my hand away. I back off and it slithers away cautiously. After that, every branch I see fools me into thinking it’s a snake.
Morning tea atop the Minotaur’s head is a fine way to enjoy a muesli bar. We survey the way ahead, discussing the best route to tackle our last mountain on the range, Mt Gould, and reach our final wild camp on the Gould Plateau. Whichever way we choose it’s going to be a steep and intimate affair with the scrub until we reach a saddle that provides fairly easy walking. After that we’re boulder hopping once more.
Boulder hopping towards Big Gun Pass.
Hercules may have slain the Lernaean Hydra and strangled the Nemean Lion, but I wonder how he would’ve fared scoparia surfing. It seems Steve and I have inadvertently invented a new sport, a pretty unpleasant one at that. We’ve come off Mt Gould too early, lured by a sedate shelf of grass, and are now bushwhacking through head-high scoparia bushes that scratch our necks and scrape our goolies. We could certainly use a Cretan bull to devour the foliage right now.
Walking through scoparia this tall is an art. It’s not one that I’ve been born with as it turns out, and I’m soon tumbling face first into it. Even though this scoparia is annoying, it was here way before I stupidly wandered into it. I find myself not wanting to damage it yet endlessly aggravated by its presence.
You have to fully commit to bashing through bush like this. There’s no room for half-heartedness. The best policy is to run/throw myself into the scoparia while at the same time trying not to fall over and brush softly past it. I aim to place my feet at the base of the scoparia for footholds that are reliable for the most part.
We spend the next couple of hours fumbling in the undergrowth, acquiring scratches and bruises and covering only a few hundred metres. I round off the scoparia sojourn with an unintentional cartwheel when I lose my balance and spin upside down, ending up with my legs akimbo facing the sky.
The terrain relents, and as we emerge onto Gould Plateau I realise the endeavour has been worth it. This is paradise. Peaks poke up from the landscape at sporadic intervals, surrounding me as if I’m in the centre of a giant clock. Mt Olympus stands in the distance. Its presence confirms that this is a place where gods idle and contemplate what to create next. In the centre of this mammoth creator clock, I experience time differently. I lose myself in the ripples of tarns, gliding into different dimensions. It feels as though Steve and I could be the only humans on the face of the Earth. If the Lernaean Hydra was to emerge from the depths of the tarn before me, then I’d be happy to die here, perhaps not being mauled by the fangs of a mutated snake, but being here on this plateau is a state of peace I seldom experience in places other than the mountains.
We eat dinner perched on a stone slab. Somebody has arranged small rocks on top of it to form a symbol. Perhaps we’ve stumbled on a place of sacred ritual; for me, the ritual is simply being alive, every breath, every undulation of my chest and this landscape a ceremonial acknowledgement and gratitude to existence. This is a place, it seems, touched only by the imaginations of people who have never been here.
I lie watching as the sun sinks perfectly between two peaks, draping trees in the valley below in a gorgeous shade of gold. Boulders form a shelf that spans off into the distance like a row of giant’s teeth. I merge with the sunset. I feel as though a part of me is dying yet dawning at the same time, that life and death are inextricably the same. This plateau doesn’t speak in sentences; its message is conveyed on a cellular level. And as the sun sinks, so does a knowing too that I’ll be back here one day. Perhaps scattered across the plateau from an upturned urn, or as a tree basking in golden sunset light.
Getting there: Take a ferry across (or else hike around) Lake St Clair to Narcissus Bay. Tickets are available from the information centre beside the lake or by logging onto www.lakestclairlodge.com.au. Once at Narcissus Bay, follow the Overland Track north for roughly 3.5km and then veer off at Du Cane Gap, or else follow the Lake Marion Track (accessible by following the Overland east for a short way from the bay), before joining the Gould Plateau Track.
Resources: National Park permits are required and are available from visitor centres and also from passes.parks.tas.gov.au. You can take water-purifying tablets, although the tarn water along the ridge is safe to drink without. Tasmap’s Du Cane map denotes the entire range. www.tasmap.tas.gov.au