Trip Report: A taste of the Western Arthur Range in South West Tassie

About 10 years I was inspired by the rugged beauty of South West Tasmania when I first saw Peter Dombrovskis famous photo of Lake Oberon and I decided that I would visit the lake one day.

In mid-September I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Tasmania and although I didn’t have the time (or the nerve) for a full traverse of the Western Arthurs I figured I could squeeze in a quick solo trip to Lake Oberon. But like many of my adventures it turned out to be harder than I expected.

20160916_oberon_005

Any thoughts of keeping my feet dry disappeared after about an hour on the trail. The mud was ankle deep for much of the way in but on several occasions I sank in above the top of my gaiters. And with water and mud coming in the top of your boots it doesn’t matter whether they are Gore-Tex lined or not.

20160916_oberon_010

When I got to the Junction Creek crossing I managed to scramble across fallen trees and avoid getting any wetter.

20160916_oberon_012

My first good look at the Western Arthur Range.

20160916_oberon_013

There were some light showers as I climbed Alpha Moraine. The climb wasn’t particularly long or steep but it was quite rough and slow.

20160916_oberon_017

Looking north with Lake Pedder in the distance.

20160916_oberon_022

I had a fairly ambitious plan: Start off early from the car park at Scott’s Peak Dam (3 hour drive from Hobart) and walk to Lake Oberon in one long day.

Maybe I am getting old, soft or just slow but there was no way that was going to happen and I had to settle for Lake Cygnus for my first night (shown above). I found that my walking times were at the top end of the times recommended in John Chapman’s track notes (see link below) and I wasn’t even carrying 12 days of food for a full traverse.

So after a wet night at the Lake Cygnus camping area I packed up and headed off to spend my second night at Lake Oberon.

20160917_oberon_044

The track is well defined and easy to follow albeit rough and steep in places.

20160917_oberon_080

Square Lake was very impressive.

20160917_oberon_187

But this is what I came to see. After about 4 hours walking I made it to the saddle between Square Lake and Lake Oberon. I was lucky to have clear weather and took a heap of photos (click photo to enlarge).

According to John Chapman’s guide book “The walking from Alpha Moraine through the ridge above Lake Oberon is relatively easy”. For those brave enough to continue on and do the full traverse the guidebook uses words like: continual scrambling, steep descents in precipitous gullies and on cliffs, at times the route is dangerous being poised above high cliffs…..

If I was on the easy part of the track I had no desire to venture into the hard stuff especially on my own.

I was a bit concerned about a forecast change in the weather for the next day and the exposed sections of track I had to cover. So rather than camp at Lake Oberon as planned I retreated back to Lake Cygnus for my second night (you can get Telstra service at some points along the range). I was even too lazy to walk down to the lake as that would have taken me another 30 minutes each way.

I was happy with my change of plan except that I felt like an idiot for packing up my camp and carrying all my gear for a full day only to set up camp at the same spot. When I got back to Lake Cygnus I met two other people – and these were the only other walkers I saw during my three days out there.

20160917_oberon_219

Amazingly the track weaves its way up and down along the range through some pretty steep and rugged terrain. I was averaging a very slow 1.2 km/h.

20160918_oberon_276

The northern end of the range near Alpha Moraine is relatively flat and open and makes for enjoyable walking. Lake Pedder shown in the distance.

20160918_oberon_502

The parks people have placed a few of these toilets at campsites along the track. Note the helicopter lifting points. The lack of privacy wasn’t a concern due to the shortage of people around. After descending Alpha Moraine I was back on the flat and muddy section of track back to the car park.

20160918_oberon_503

With a few hours of steady rain the track got wetter and the mud got deeper……

At one point I found myself thigh deep in sticky mud. It wasn’t easy to extract myself and there was so much suction on my feet I was concerned one of my boots would come off and be lost forever.

20160918_oberon_509

I eventually made it to the car park and drove back to Hobart. After three full days of spectacular scenery and a lot of mud I can now cross Lake Oberon off my list. It was tougher than I expected but it was an enjoyable and memorable trip.

If you are heading out this way I recommend you get this book. I found it very useful.

jc_swt_720

http://www.john.chapman.name/pub-sw.html

You can find more information about the famous Tasmanian wilderness photographer Peter Dombrovskis here: http://www.peterdombrovskis.com/

Sadly he died in 1996 while photographing in the Western Arthurs but hopefully his work will continue to inspire others to get out and enjoy remote parts of Tasmania.

Gear Review: Alpina Alaska 75 ski boots & Voile Hardwire 3-pin bindings

20160828_Alpina_003

I wanted to share the details of my ski setup as it is not very common (at least in Australia) and I get a few questions from people I meet on the mountain. If you are looking for a versatile combo for backcountry touring read on…..

The bindings

The bindings are accurately described by Voile as the “Swiss Army Knife of telemark bindings”. As shown on the left in the photo above – the boot is secured using the standard 75mm 3-pin old school rat trap. A well-proven and reliable arrangement for backcountry touring. On the right you will see that the boot is secured by the rat trap at the front AND a hardwire style cable at the back – and this setup makes the boot/binding combo stiffer for more control going downhills and making turns.

20160828_Alpina_004

The steel rod and the spring-loaded cartridge of the hardwire system really helps to lock the boot in but the extra tension on the heel can be a bit annoying on flat ground or uphill – which is exactly when you disengage the hardwire and revert to 3-pin mode.

20160828_Alpina_006

You can easily take the hardwire off and leave it at home if you are planning on an easy kick and glide trip or you are a good skiier and trying to keep the weight down.

20160828_Alpina_005

You can see the climbing wire in the raised position in the photo above. These are intended to make it easier on your legs when you are skinning up long steep hills but I don’t have skins and try to avoid steep hills so I haven’t had an opportunity to use them apart from a brief test on a moderate uphill.

20160828_Alpina_002The hardwires are shown here in the stowed position. If you get the heel riser installed in the right location relative to the length of your boot the hardwire will lock in position behind the riser.

The bindings come with some anti-icing tape which you stick on the blue metal toe plate.

Overall I would say that these bindings are pretty awesome and I am really glad that I purchased them. The versatility is exactly what I want for my type of skiing. It sometimes takes me a couple of goes to clear the snow and get the pins engaged in the duckbill when locking in the toe but that would be the same with any 3-pin binding.

It is worth noting that like most Cross Country bindings these have no release function so there is potential to break your ankle or something in a bad crash. Some of the high performance telemark bindings have the ability to release your boot in a crash.

Bretto Rating: 9/10

Would I buy it again: Yes

The Boots

I wanted a heavy duty boot but I didn’t want to go plastic. I am a big fan of leather (footwear that is) and anyone who has an old pair of leather hiking boots knows how comfortable they can especially when well worn in. Think of the Alaska 75 as a heavy duty hiking boot with a 3-pin sole. It is insulated, has a waterproof liner and a great lacing system. What more could you want? Well if you are a gun tele skier you will probably want something stiffer and that is going to mean a big heavy plastic boot.

20160828_Alpina_009

Is it just me or is this a sexy boot?

20160828_Alpina_008

The rubber rand means that most of the wet slush doesn’t come into contact with the leather keeping the boot drier and warmer.

Warmth and Waterproofness

The boot has Thinsulate insulation and only on one occasion have my toes felt cold and that was after a period of inactivity. If you keep moving you are not going to get cold. The boots have an Alpitex membrane which I assume is Alpina’s version of Gore-Tex. Does it work? I think so…..I have noticed my toes get a bit damp and clammy on a few occasions after a long day or a few strenuous miles and I put that down to the inability of the toe section to breathe through the rubber rand. Obviously any membrane isn’t going to help breathability in that area but for most of the boot I think the leather and membrane combo seems to do a decent job of keeping your feet dry – from both the snow on the outside and foot vapour on the inside. With the exception of the rand section I would say it performs similar to a Gore-tex lined leather hiking boot.

When putting my feet back into the boots on the second day of a trip I have noticed the boots being a bit moist and taking a bit longer to warm up than when completely dry but there isn’t much you can do about that. One time I wore a pair of large plastic freezer bags over my socks as a vapour barrier to try and keep any moisture out of the boot lining and it seemed to work but the small amount of moisture is probably not a big deal unless you are going for a trip of many days somewhere really cold. If you are that much of a princess about getting a damp sock you probably need to find a new hobby.

I have not yet tried testing the waterproofness of the boot by standing in ankle deep water.

20160828_Alpina_007

The Vibram sole has the standard 3-pin holes and 75mm “Duckbill” at the toe. The grip is aggressive and provides good traction when walking around in the snow.

Sizing

I would say these boots run true to size or maybe half a size large. I normally wear a size 46 to 46.5 in Asolo and Salomon boots and shoes (which may be half a size larger than I really need but I hate my toes hitting the front of the boot). I tried on the Alaska in both the 45 and 46 and decided to go for the 45 for a firmer fit hoping for a bit more control on the slopes. They normally feel quite snug when I put them on but after 20 minutes or so they seem to bed down a bit and the lining or my socks compress or something and then my foot feels very comfortable. Maybe a 45.5 (if they make it) would have been perfect for me but I have no regrets going for the smaller size. I recommend you try them on before you buy a pair of boots – any boots. There is no point saving a few bucks buying something online if you spend the next 10 years with a pair of boots that don’t fit properly.

20160814_Stirling_166

The boots are a bit higher than a normal hiking boot so I don’t normally feel the need to wear gaiters when skiing or walking around. I have never had snow come in the top of the boot although if you are walking around in very deep and/or soft snow gaiters would be handy.

Comfort

This is where these bad boys shine. I have never had any rubbing, blisters or discomfort. While they are intended for skiing, these boots also perform well walking up tracks to get to the snow and when hanging around camp. Just like walking in solid hiking boots and I have never found the duckbill to be a problem. My threshold for walking in plastic boots up a road would be about 20 minutes before I got really angry and started swearing – which means for some trips you may need to wear a pair of shoes to walk to the snow and carry your heavy plastic boots. With the Alaska you only need one pair of boots for the trip.

Bretto Rating: 9/10 (I deducted 1 point for clammy toe syndrome)

Would I buy it again: Yes

20160703_Gwinear_025

DISCLAIMER ON SKIING ABILITY AND MY EXPERTISE: The opinions expressed herein are based on my limited experience of cross-country / backcountry skiing. I have had this setup now for 2 years and used it on about 7 trips ranging from day trips with no pack to overnight trips carrying a pack up to 25kg. Before purchasing this gear I spent a couple of years looking into different skis, boots and bindings and trying out a few different setups. This included hiring “backcountry touring” gear for a 3 day trip consisting of plastic boots (Garmont/Scott Excursion or Scarpa equivalent) and Rottefella Chili bindings. This was just horrible. The boots were so stiff and uncomfortable that me and my 3 friends (who had the same equipment) couldn’t wait to get the boots off. I acknowledge that if you buy your own good quality plastic boots and have them heat moulded to your foot it is probably much more comfortable and you will have much better control when going downhill and your feet will stay dry and warm. But if you plan on a mix of kick and glide touring, a few hills and hanging around camp I don’t reckon you can beat a leather boot like the Alaska 75.

Buying this gear isn’t cheap and you will hopefully use it for many years so I recommend you hire some skis and boots or borrow them from a friend to work out what type of equipment is right for you.

Full details of the bindings can be found here:

http://www.voile.com/voile-hardwire-3-pin-telemark-binding.html

Unfortunately no one in Australia stocks these bindings that I could find so you have to order them from the US.

More details on the boots can be found here:

http://www.alpinasports.com/product/alaska_75/225

If you live in Australia you can get the boots from these guys in Bright. No affiliation but great customer service. https://www.everestsports.com.au/

I purchased the skis and got the bindings fitted at EMC in Melbourne. No affiliation but always great customer service from Doug and the team: http://www.snow-ski.com.au/

And in case you are wondering the skis are Madshus Epoch 195cm. What can I say – they are long and slippery.