Last week, we got a taste of Tasmania’s true wilderness that left us wanting more. So, this week, we took a deep dive into Southwest National Park— one of the world’s last true wilderness areas.
There’s something about earth’s wild places that, while cruel and unforgiving, have a certain allure that is undeniably infectious. Perhaps this comes down to the way that these places make us feel small or helpless. True wilderness demands respect. Putting ourselves in a position of complete vulnerability humbles us and is a reminder of how insignificant we really are.
We need that today more than ever.
But we didn’t wander aimlessly into one of the most remote wilderness areas on earth. Our goal was to reach the summit of Federation Peak, an iconic spire mountain of rock and ice which Sir Edmond Hillary named “Australia’s only real mountain“.
This was one of the most difficult hiking experiences of our lives so far and while we didn’t make the summit, it was a great learning exercise in survival and humility.
Federation Peak & Southwest National Park
Haylea and I consider ourselves both very experienced hikers. We prepare and plan meticulously for wilderness hikes like this. But, nothing could have prepared us mentally for the challenge ahead.
The thing about Federation Peak, or Feddy is that reaching the base of the peak itself requires a long, miserable and infamously muddy 20-kilometre traverse of dense, overgrown forest and soggy buttongrass plain. This is a challenge in itself but the final push is a 3-kilometre near-vertical root-climb up a steep and eroding range known as Moss Ridge. Then, you need to ascend sheer rock and ice to the summit, with a completely exposed 600-metre drop below.
We are experienced and know our limits. We’ve trekked all over, including having spent close to a month traversing some of the highest mountain passes in the world in the Himalayas. What a lot of people, including ourselves don’t first recognise is that altitude isn’t THE defining factor of difficulty.
The majority of the Eastern Arthurs Traverse track, while undulating sporadically, lies between a mere 450 to 1200 metres above sea level. But let me tell you, three days of being soaked to the core in minus temperatures, picking leeches from our wrinkled skin and wading multi-day packs through knee to waist-deep mud over 60 kilometres definitely grew our respect for the Australian wilderness.
But don’t get me wrong, a winter summit attempt of Federation Peak had been on my bucket list for a while. We had prepared meticulously and we were never in danger or over our heads. But, what I guess I’m trying to say is that no matter how much you plan, nothing can mentally prepare you for the miserable conditions out there.
The Saturated, Sorrowful Southwest
Notoriously, Tasmania and especially the Southwest National Park is incredibly unpredictable when it comes to weather. We thought we had the perfect 3-day window to drive out to the edge of Southwest National Park, hike out to the remote peak and return. The weather was supposed to be on our side, with no wind or even cloud predicted for the next few days.
After making the bumpy drive out to Farmhouse Creek, we experienced that notorious unpredictability first-hand. We spent the night in the van sleepless, thinking “surely this rain will stop soon“. Of course, rain is no problem when you’re warm and sound in your well-insulated home on wheels. It was the thought of being thrown out onto one of the muddiest, wildest places on the planet that kept us awake.
The rain didn’t stop. At first light we got updated weather forecasts on our satellite phone that convinced us this poor weather would be well and truly finished by midday. Of course, it wouldn’t.
But, we were prepared. We have the right gear, the right level of fitness, the bush skills and the stubbornness to continue. All very necessary components of an endeavour like Federation Peak.
Following relentless rain, this track was all but completely flooded from the get-go. The winter conditions brought snow to as low as 500 metres and the rivers and creeks were roaring through the valleys and down the slopes of the rainforest ridges.
The going was tough. And, in the end, we never made it to the summit of Federation Peak. We got as far as Berchevaise Plateau, just below the final ascent. The slippery, icy conditions meant that it wasn’t safe for us to ascend. We were extremely stubborn to make it as far as we did but not stubborn to the point of risking our lives for a summit.
I’m very grateful to have been granted this experience. Our first real taste of the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness is something that we will remember forever and the lessons will not be forgotten.
Although the failed summit attempt has blunted the ego slightly, I’m very proud of our effort and even more proud of Haylea, who well and truly pushed her limits on this one. There aren’t many people out there that can do what she has done and I’m honoured to call her my life partner. Let’s just say she deserves a week of van-life luxury, hot cappuccinos and steaming fruit-loaf included!
Read more: Federation Peak: Winter Summit Attempt
This 11th week of our adventures of van-living in Tasmania was mostly dedicated to our expedition to Federation Peak. But, we also made a stop to check out Tahune Adventures, one of Tasmania’s most iconic adventure parks.
Unfortunately, the Tahune Forest was severely impacted by the 2018-2019 bushfires. We checked out Tahune Adventures and the famous AirWalk and I wrote a detailed guide to visiting, which I’m sure will be useful for other people travelling around Tassie and looking for things to do and see.
Plans for Week 12
Coming up to three months of van travel in Tasmania, we were very glad that we extended our stay until late July. Winter is creeping in slowly but there’s just so much more we want to see and do on this beautiful island. And, I think after the experience this week, we’re psychologically immune to the cold!
Unfortunately, the conditions out in the Southwest took a toll on my camera. I had to send it in for repair this week but will hopefully get it back soon.
After returning from Southwest National Park, we were also informed of some heartbreaking news which meant Haylea had to quickly fly back to Sydney to be with her family and close friends. I couldn’t accompany her or be there to support her because we have nowhere to leave the van. It’s left me with a helpless feeling of guilt but it’s one of the realities of living life on the road.
So, much of Week 12 will be just me, solo in the van until Haylea returns on the 13th of June. I don’t have a whole lot planned but I think there’ll be a fair bit of time spent inside the van keeping warm and catching up on computer work. A little less exciting than attempting Australia’s most difficult hiking peak in Winter!